Sunday, July 29, 2007

Lexington Law: Prosperity Tool or Needless Rigmarole

Now that on-line banking services are now as secure as their traditional equivalent, does the Lexington Law Firm’s service (promise?) of improving one’s credit score help or hinder our goal towards financial security?

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

Since the advent of on-line banking, meeting ones financial needs like e-loans is now only a mouse click away. Some on-line banks have even adopted the concepts of Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus’ “Banking for the Poor.” You can now avail to a socially responsible investing by providing small business loans to the needy via the Internet. But as one’s on-line business keeps on growing, sooner or later, one will encounter “credit report” problems. Fortunately, there are service providers on-line whose business is to provide solutions to these kinds of problems.

As seen on their adverts, Lexington Law firm promises to improve your credit score and provide credit repair. Lexington Law firm has pioneered credit services over the Internet. Lexington Law firm has been providing credit repair services for many years and have a select group of experienced attorneys who specializes in credit repair. The law firm had helped over 90,000 Americans repair their credit by removing inaccurate, misleading or unverifiable items / information from their client’s credit reports. From bankruptcies to charge - off to tax liens, Lexington Law firm have challenged virtually every credit problem under the sun. They’re good at what they do because they believe in their work. Their attorneys enjoy what they do and are committed to their clients. This means they get you results that you –the client-can count on, results that can literally turn your life around.

Lexington Law firm ignited the consumer credit repair revolution in 1991 with their off-line credit repair services, and reinvented the consumer credit repair process in 1997 with it’s e-Client service. Lexington is committed to providing the best and most effective credit repair solutions to consumers through its innovative credit repair and Internet offerings. At present, Lexington has helped over 200,000 Americans repair their “credit reports” by removing inaccurate, misleading, or unverifiable information. The firm also promises 24 hour 7 days a week support, same day service, no hidden fees and their clients can cancel anytime.

Since their establishment in 1991, only a very small minority of Lexington Law firm’s clients experienced dissatisfaction of the services provided. Like the one client who voiced her opinion on, she said Lexington Law firm does “NOT” provide dispute letters to clients? Spam disputes only? While some of Lexington Law firms more extreme critics describe the firm as an “ENRON” waiting to happen.

From what I and my colleague had observed so far, Lexington Law firm provides an invaluable service of improving one’s credit score especially in this age of on-line banking where prospective clients can only “meet” the bank manager in cyberspace. The service they provide could literally save your credit so that when the time comes when you need money in a hurry, there will be no problem asking your on-line bank for an e-loan i.e. to borrow money. My colleague and I wonder if Lexington Law firm also includes credit counseling or a tip to reduce debt as part of their on-line service? Also, one can’t ignore the testimonials of thousands of their satisfied clients, which only serve to strengthen Lexington Law firm’s reputation.

Like all business related firms, only time will tell if Lexington Law firm will boom or bust in this new age of on-line banking where the primary goal of their current and prospective clients is the acquisition of extra money. My colleague and I just hope that they’ll survive the current July 2007 slowing down of America’s credit market.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Vioxx: Beyond Pain Relief?

Is it due to the current profit driven health care system/industry that drugs with undesirable side effects still manage to enter the market?

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

Ever since the discovery of aspirin over a hundred years ago, medical science had been busy searching / designing for a substitute drug that’s just as effective in managing pain without aspirin’s broad-spectrum somewhat undesirable side effects. One of these drugs is Vioxx whose generic name is rofecoxib. Vioxx / rofecoxib is a non steroidal anti-inflamatory drug (NSAID for short) developed by the drug firm Merck and Company to treat osteoarthritis, acute pain conditions, and dismenorrhoea. Rofecoxib was approved as safe and effective by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on May 20, 1999 and was subsequently marketed under the brand name Vioxx, Ceoxx, and Ceeoxx.

Ever since FDA approval, rofecoxib gained widespread acceptance. Over 80 million people were prescribed rofecoxib at some time. On September 30, 2004, Merck voluntarily withdrew rofecoxib from the market because of concerns about increased risks of heart attack and stroke associated with long term high-dosage use of the drug. Rofecoxib was one of the most widely used drugs ever to be withdrawn from the market. Vioxx was Merck’s “Golden Goose” because it made them US$ 2.5 billion.

Merck’s withdrawal of Vioxx from the market is by no means an open and shut case. There’s the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) “controversy” on the Vioxx trial where certain data submitted to the FDA were not published in the NEJM article about the evaluation of Vioxx. The risks of prescribing rofecoxib to patients with pre existing cardiovascular disorders was found during the 2000 – 2001 Merck studies to find out if rofecoxib slows down the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or if the drug is a potential cure.

It’s quite unfortunate that Vioxx / rofecoxib was riddled with controversy like the other NSAID type drug Bextra / valdecoxib were the extent of the effects on the human cardiovascular system was not immediately known during the drug’s evaluation process. The rationale behind major drug companies producing and developing these kinds of drugs is sound because the medical community had always been searching for a substitute drug for aspirin in applications where it’s broad- spectrum of physiological effects would make it an undesirable choice. Lets not forget that if aspirin were to go through the stringency of current FDA standards of evaluation, it would never be approved for human use due to its broad –spectrum of physiological effects. Aspirin is primarily used as an analgesic and pain reliever but it also works as a mild anti-coagulant which it is used as a heart attack “preventive” for patients who are at risk for this. But aspirin’s use for this purpose requires a doctor’s supervision.

Despite of a number of drugs with attendant controversies, the medical community can’t immediately rule out their possible future potential applications. Studies have shown that Vioxx / rofecoxib is a potential Alzheimer’s disease preventive and / or possible cure. There was an article in Nature about how the teratogenic effects of thalidomide was “overlooked” because the drug doesn’t affect significantly the developing embryos of rabbits – the standard lab animal then in use back in the 1950’s - while the teratogenic nature of thalidomide was clearly evident in higher primates. Despite of thalidomide’s dangerous side effects, it has been recently used once again but this time it’s in the treatment of heart failure patients. Back in 2005, a BBC World documentary titled “Kill or Cure” featured recent trials of thalidomide being used as treatment of heart failure patients. This caused howls of protests from various thalidomide victims’ organizations around Europe criticizing the medical communities’ “failure to learn from history.”

When it comes to developing new and better drugs, the recent realities of the uneasy “marriage” between the drug industry and the medical community will always result in a “convoluted” path in drug evaluation and marketing. This is due to the results of trying to balance the demands of making a profit while staying true to the “Hippocratic Oath.”

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Who Wants SPAM

No, this is not the tinned meat variety that World War II veterans have grown to love, but the electronic/digital alter ego of the junk mail that litters our household mail- boxes.

By: Vanessa Uy

Even after 7 years into the 21st Century, fistfuls of junk mail are still being sent to our household mail- box. They are about credit card application offers, Publisher’s Clearinghouse type sweepstakes, and the most hackneyed of all is the “You may have already won millions of dollars!” type of junk mail. My eight- month- old e-mail account so far has been spared by the brunt of SPAM, the junk mail’s supposedly more evil digital twin brother. Is my on line life a charmed one? It’s still too soon to tell.

Calling SPAM as an e-mail version of junk mail is probably apt a few years ago but now, they had evolved into something that could seriously inconvenience our enjoyment of the technological fruits of the worldwide web. Traditional guises of SPAM are: An exiled Nigerian businessman who needs your help “unfreezing” his bank account; The improbable low cost surgical phallic enhancement; Viagra or other sidefil type drugs. These are the most common forms of SPAM that litter the inboxes of millions of e-mail accounts around the world, especially those that are active for more than three years according to BBC’s “Click” – a weekly program on what’s new on computers and computer related developments. More recently, creators of SPAM e-mails had “hijacked” important and or legitimate topics like an effective acne cure targeted at teenagers. This “show of desperation” could work because topics about acne are a “link bomb” to complexion conscious teens. Despite of this, should we be afraid of SPAM?

The truth is we should be especially those of the latest incarnation of SPAM e-mails. Pump and dump SPAM advertised stocks reaching your inboxes are more likely to be riddled with “malware.” Thankfully, our fears can be dealt with in a rational manner. An effective course of action would be is when you receive a suspected SPAM e-mail on your inbox is never ever click it. Clicking SPAM e-mails is like triggering your typical anti-personnel mine; the results are devastating especially to your e-mail account. If you are “unlucky” enough to have clicked the latest generation of SPAM e-mails, it takes over one’s e-mail account to send more of itself around like a virus. The latest generation of über-SPAM can access e-mail accounts by brute force methods. So as a precaution, don’t click or double click suspected SPAM messages.

For further protection, you can always download open-source/free anti SPAM software and the latest anti SPAM filters on the internet. Most of the existing anti SPAM software is distributed on-line for free by software companies. Just make sure the software / operating system you are using to run your computer – or the one in use in the internet café - are genuine. Company provided open source software doesn’t work with their pirated counterparts. At present, current SPAM filters in use is still effective for most of the existing SPAM variants out there, but they need constant revamp due to the constantly evolving nature of the SPAM threat. To me, SPAM is just one of the unfortunate by-products of the relatively lawless nature of the worldwide web and should be treated as such.

Live Earth 2007: An Exercise in Hypocrisy?

Despite the cause’s altruism, are private-jet-flying-I-got-more-than-one-very-fast-car-driving Rock/pop stars good spokespersons for saving the planet?

By: Vanessa Uy

It’s almost tantamount to choosing Paris Hilton as a spokesperson on moral turpitude awareness, but ever since the inception of Live Earth, I’ve always questioned the logic behind the cause’s raison d’être (or more accurately it’s self-parodying stance). Everyone knows that Rock/pop stars are the epitome of Western style capitalist avarice and conspicuous consumption. This little incident of “cognitive dissonance” hasn’t stopped Kevin Wall, Live Earth’s founder from executing this concept – with Al Gore’s blessing of course. For an event that’s billed as “The Greatest Show on Earth to Save the Earth” or “The Greatest Pop Music Event in History” with a mission to spread the message of protecting our environment an estimated audience exceeding 2billion people worldwide. The event will never be free from controversy despite of the organizers’ purchase of “Carbon Offset” funds and the use of environmentally friendly transport like biodiesel powered buses, will biofueled private jets be on offer in the future? As Al Gore unveiled the “7 Point Pledge” in the Live Earth event as a sort of a “checklist” for anyone interested in reducing their “carbon footprint.” Cynics will be saying and thinking that the audiences are more interested in the “acts” than the message Live Earth is trying to get across, but is it right to dismiss the worth of Live Earth?

Ever since the very first Woodstock back in the summer of 1969, Rock/pop stars had always proven their worth in spearheading social revolutions aimed in changing our world for the better. Back in the “Summer of Love”, Rock/pop stars made average suburban white folks more aware of the plight of African-Americans, Dr. Martin Luther King’s message, and the Vietnam War. These “celebrities” provided a platform of informed choice with universal appeal especially to impressionable teenagers. The “Secret Policeman” concert of the early 1980’s where Sting fused his humanitarian concerns with his Rockstar persona for the very first time and quite successful at it even until now. Sir Bob Geldof’s “Live Aid” of 1985 made more young people aware back then in that pre-internet era on the extent of the Ethiopian famine than the traditional news providers ever could. Then came the series of look-how-caring-we-are causes like “A Very Special Christmas” album compilations for the benefit of the Special Olympics.

Basing on this historical track record, I think Rock/pop stars are more successful in earning/generating money/funds for charity than convincing the powers-that-be to end wars and torture. It’s quite sad that convincing “Westernized” people around the world to abandon their pursuit of avarice and conspicuous consumption is almost as futile as convincing the global powers to end all on-going wars around the world. And let’s not forget Live Earth is not the first musical event with an environmental platform. Who among us can still recall the 20th Earth Day TV special back in April 1990 where Bette Middler pleading to all people around the world to be more “Earth Friendly.” Or the Seattle- Music- Scene-movie “Singles” where a bumper sticker reads: “Think Globally, Act Locally” lends a “Dadaist” environmental message in the movie. But earth friendliness never became popular to the 1990’s “Alternative- Grunge-Seattle” music scene. Apparently the “Dadaist Message” was deemed to subtle because the SUV and “cheap” gasoline were the lasting legacy of Clinton-era America. Another environmentalism-driven music scene is “Lilith Fair” but was and always been perceived by the majority as an “alternative lifestyle” venue for American women. And lets not forget that the “Rockstar” lifestyle and excess knows no bounds like the recent incident of Al Gore's son in an “unlawful joyride” with a hybrid car, a Toyota Prius no less.

In spite of it all, to me, any form of spreading awareness on the plight of our environment and what we –the ordinary people- could do in our part to save it should be embraced with open arms because it’s a way a lot better than doing nothing. Rock/pop star fronted causes might work only on “charity cases” but the moral pressure they exerted back in the 1960’s ended the US Government’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict, Civil Rights are no longer a dream but a working reality, but it took time. I think everyone around the world is beginning to realize that environmentalism only works when poverty is reduced to zero, and if the global peace and order situation takes a radical turn for the better.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Bextra: 21st Century Thalidomide

Despite existing strict safeguards, drugs with unknown side effects still manage to get through current well- established screening programs.

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

It’s quite ironic that a drug formulated to relieve pain became known as: “the cure worse than the disease.” The drug Bextra –also known by its generic name as valdecoxib- that is marketed by the drug firm G.D. Searle and Company, was a popular pain reliever often used to treat the symptoms (i.e. pain) of rheumatoid arthritis and osteo arthritis in adults. The drug was recalled once it was linked to life threatening side effects including the autoimmune disorder Steven-Johnson's syndrome, heart attacks, and strokes. Bextra was recalled from market circulation- however- the action came too late for the thousands of Bextra users who were harmed by the drug.

Drugs that manage to enter the market before their serious side effects are fully known are by no means a recent phenomenon. Back in 1960, thalidomide was this supposedly über-harmless sedative which was later found out to be a serious teratogen i.e. affects fetal development. Physicians in the then West Germany began noticing a spike in the occurrence of birth defects of one particular type. The babies are affected with phocomelia (from the Greek words: phoke, a seal, and melos, a limb). Toward the end of 1961 a persistent German pediatrician, Dr. Widukind Lenz tracked down thalidomide as the agent responsible in the case of the seal babies. Thalidomide usage had then spread from Germany to other European countries as well as to Canada, South America, Japan, and the Near East. In November 1961 the German manufacturer of thalidomide halted production, but the total number of thalidomide affected babies ultimately exceeded 5,000 in Germany and at least 1,000 in other countries.

At the time, American mothers were spared of the “full brunt” of the “thalidomide disaster” through the diligence of Frances Kelsey, a doctor then working for the US Food and Drug Administration. An American drug company had then applied for permission from the FDA to distribute the drug in the US, but Dr. Kelsey repeatedly refused to approve for the application until she had conclusive evidence of thalidomide’s safety. When the news of the “thalidomide disaster” in Germany spread, the manufacturers withdrew their application to market thalidomide. Meanwhile, however, the drug companies had already sent out some thousands of free samples to physicians. Fortunately only a few of those got taken by pregnant women: American thalidomide babies numbered less than ten, and most of them were caused by pills brought in from Europe.

Recently, the drug firm involved with the marketing of Bextra is now resolving personal injury tort claims of the thousands of affected users via structured settlement. Is the Bextra incident a sign of increasing complacency of the established consumer product “watchdog” arm of the FDA? If so, then we the taxpayers deserve something better to get our money’s worth. Isn’t it what our taxes are for in the first place? Do we have to call Michael Moore to save us again?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Structured Settlements: A Barrier to Social Justice?

Now more than ever, governments worldwide are forced to choose between the welfare of their citizens or in maintaining the “bottom line” of corporate entities.

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

American social justice crusader Michael Moore had criticized structured settlements in his documentary “Bowling for Columbine” citing that -in practice- it is pro-corporation and anti-corporate victim. In the recent Heiligendamm G8, ATTAC-the anti G8 pressure group-are very clear on where they stand on the issue of structured settlements with their motto that states: “The world is not for sale.” But what is a “structured settlement”? A structured settlement is a financial or insurance arrangement- including periodic payments- that a claimant accepts to resolve a personal injury tort claim or to compromise a statutory periodic payment obligation. Structured settlements were first utilized in the US and Canada during the 1970’s as an alternative to lump sum settlements. Structured settlement payments are sometimes called “periodic payments.” A structured settlement that is incorporated into a trial judgment is called “periodic payment judgment.” Almost instantly after being instituted by the major economic powers in their judicial system, structured settlements were later adopted by London, Australia and the rest of the “Industrialized West.” If this form of settlement is being widely adopted by the Western World, then conventional wisdom dictates that this is a good thing – right?

In practice, the equitability of structured settlements - like the laws of physics in a black hole/singularity- break down when the claimant has became terminally ill and doesn’t have much time to live. This works in favor of the corporation responsible for the said injury/damage to the health and well being of the plaintiff. Back in June 2007, the BBC reported on a court appeal in the US to pay compensation to Vietnamese citizens affected by the defoliant “Agent Orange” then in use during the Vietnam War. The claimants lost on the first round of court hearings, but they vow to persevere.

Basing on what we currently know about the “Agent Orange” issue, the Vietnamese victims of the said defoliant face an uphill battle. Since the manufacturers of the “Agent Orange” used during the Vietnam War – DOW Chemical Corporation and Monsanto Corporation – have close ties to the powers-that-be on the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. Even though -at present- DOW and Monsanto are currently involved with structured settlements with American Troops who became chronically ill and developed cancer while being exposed to “Agent Orange” during their “Tour of Duty” in Vietnam during the 1960’s.

DOW and Monsanto’s “delay tactics” will only do the company favors since their yet-to-be-recognized claimants are slowly dying out. This might not pass as justice to most of us civilized folks, but it’s the law!

Wither Air Travel

Even though air travel produce only 3% of the industrial world’s total carbon dioxide output, why do environmentalists continue to vilify it as the main culprit of global warming?

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

Having seen “The Ethical Man” series of documentaries on the BBC’s world service, both of us had always wondered why air travel receives a disproportionate amount of vilification by the world’s environmentally conscious populace. Is it because of the current reality that biofuels won’t work (they’ll freeze) at the high altitudes frequented by commercial air traffic? Or is it because that the ownership of “private jets” -the perennial (30-year-old?) aspiration- of the ultimate status symbol never goes out of fashion? If these environmentalists hate air travel for these reasons, are they willing to boycott Mid-East oil in order to solve the turmoil in Iraq and put an end to the Bush Administration/Oligarchy’s and Al- Qaeda’s raison d’être? Or should we be asking the question: “Is there an alternative to air travel?”

Since -at present- politics beat environmental concerns, in our opinion there will never be an alternative to air travel unless the worldwide peace and order situation undergoes a radical turn for the better. Land based mass transit systems –like bus and rail- are easy prey for Taliban-style insurgents armed with assault rifles and man-portable artillery. Sea travel fares no better, remember the Achile Lauro incident more than 20 years ago? Even the US Navy’s USS Cole, was seriously damaged by an Al-Qaeda operative sailing a “floating firecracker.” Since 99% of the world’s terrorist organizations don’t have yet the capability to shoot down commercial planes flying at 30,000 feet, then flying is still-for the foreseeable future- the safest way to travel. Even if it’s not quite environmentally friendly.

The 2008 US Presidential Elections are looming on the horizon. Does every one of these presidential candidates need to hop on their individual private jets just to go from one Presidential Debate venue to another? Maybe these presidential candidates do a “carpooling” equivalent on their private jets. Security protocols could still be maintained while reducing the candidate’s carbon footprint. It would be quite hypocritical if these presidential candidates say they are pro-environment yet they use their private jets as if they are bicycles.

The world’s politicians should stop procrastinating when it comes to conflict resolution. Unless they have a vested interest in a “carbon intensive” industry, a more peaceful world means a less energy-intensive world.