Saturday, September 27, 2008

Did the study work? Consumers can find out | Booster Shots | Los Angeles Times

Did the study work? Consumers can find out Booster Shots Los Angeles Times:

"Many of the most promising new medical treatments are just beyond the grasp of consumers simply because they don't know about them. But that's about to change. Beginning tomorrow, the nation's database for clinical trials,, will begin adding the results of trials of drugs, medical devices and biologic products (such as vaccines) conducted in the United States. was launched in 2000 to provide people with easy access to information about clinical trials. But until now, consumers who went to the website could find only details about the trial's launch, such as the study's design and who is eligible to enroll. Under the new rule, researchers sponsoring the trial must go back and post their results (except for very early-stage experiments, which are called Phase 1 trials) online within one year of the study's conclusion or within 30 days of approval of a product by the Food and Drug Administration. The database will carry results of trials that were underway as of Sept. 27, 2007. However, researchers of previously completed trials have been encouraged to post their results, too.

The rule is a result of a law passed last year to demand more transparency in clinical trials. Consumer health advocates hope the requirement will make it harder for study sponsors to hide unexpected or harmful reactions to drugs or devices. In the past, consumers could only turn to medical and scientific journals to find out a study's results. If the study wasn't published, which sometimes happens especially if the trial failed, no one knew"

Pundits: Debate Even. Viewers: Obama Clearly Won. Why the Disparity?

Pundits: Debate Even. Viewers: Obama Clearly Won. Why the Disparity?:
My feeling is that the Couric interview might have done for McCain what the first Nixon-Kennedy did for Nixon in 1960 -- a true watershed moment. The American voters finally "got it" about Palin and so McCain's "best moment" against Obama either fell flat with many of them, or proved laughable.

"Pundits: Debate Even. Viewers: Obama Clearly Won. Why the Disparity?

As so often happens, the pundit 'scoring' of a presidential debate ends up quite at odds from the polls of viewers that soon follow. Here's why that happened again on Friday night, in my view.

By Greg Mitchell

(September 27, 2008) -- It often happens that the pundit 'scoring' of a presidential debate ends up quite at odds from the polls of viewers that soon follow.

We've seen it again with last night's debate, which most pundits (on TV and in print) scored very or fairly even, with perhaps some recognition that Obama made some small gains because he pretty much held his own on McCain's turf. Of course, as we now know, virtually every poll taken by the networks and outside sources gave Obama an edge -- and not a small one. He easily swept surveys of undecideds, even carried a Fox focus group. At least in the polls, it was no contest.

We'll see if and how it affects the head-to-head matchup surveys in days ahead but for now we have to ask: Why did so many mainstream pundits blow it?

Of course, there is always the striving for "balance," the effects of pre-spinning, and in some cases their favoring of McCain from the outset. And, to be frank, McCain gave a pretty good account of himself.

But many pundits threw out the window what they, and others, had said beforehand, about Obama needing to appear presidential and seem expert on international matters. When he did just that in the debate, they suddenly forgot the importance they had placed on it beforehand.

But here's the key to the viewer/pundit disparity. It took awhile for McCain to build up to it but then he hammered it home near the end: Obama, he charged, lacked the "knowledge and experience" to be president.

Pundits highlighted that and said it was the key to McCain gaining at least a tie. But I didn't hear a single person on TV point out: McCain just picked Palin for vice president! How, then, could he make such a charge against Obama?"

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Credit Default Swaps: The Next Crisis? - TIME

Credit Default Swaps: The Next Crisis? - TIME

Credit default swaps are insurance-like contracts that promise to cover losses on certain securities in the event of a default. They typically apply to municipal bonds, corporate debt and mortgage securities and are sold by banks, hedge funds and others. The buyer of the credit default insurance pays premiums over a period of time in return for peace of mind, knowing that losses will be covered if a default happens. It's supposed to work similarly to someone taking out home insurance to protect against losses from fire and theft.

Except that it doesn't. Banks and insurance companies are regulated; the credit swaps market is not. As a result, contracts can be traded — or swapped — from investor to investor without anyone overseeing the trades to ensure the buyer has the resources to cover the losses if the security defaults. The instruments can be bought and sold from both ends — the insured and the insurer.

All of this makes it tough for banks to value the insurance contracts and the securities on their books. And it comes at a time when banks are already reeling from write-downs on mortgage-related securities. "These are the same institutions that themselves have either directly or through subsidiaries invested in the subprime market," said Andrea Pincus, partner at Reed Smith LLP. "They're suffering losses all over the place," and now they face potentially more losses from the CDS market.

Indeed, commercial banks are among the most active in this market, with the top 25 banks holding more than $13 trillion in credit default swaps — where they acted as either the insured or insurer — at the end of the third quarter of 2007, according to the Comptroller of the Currency, a federal banking regulator. JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America and Wachovia were ranked among the top four most active, it said.

Credit default swaps were seen as easy money for banks when they were first launched more than a decade ago. Reason? The economy was booming and corporate defaults were few back then, making the swaps a low-risk way to collect premiums and earn extra cash. The swaps focused primarily on municipal bonds and corporate debt in the 1990s, not on structured finance securities. Investors flocked to the swaps in the belief that big corporations would seldom go bust in such flourishing economic times.

The CDS market then expanded into structured finance, such as CDOs, that contained pools of mortgages. It also exploded into the secondary market, where speculative investors, hedge funds and others would buy and sell CDS instruments from the sidelines without having any direct relationship with the underlying investment. "They're betting on whether the investments will succeed or fail," said Pincus. "It's like betting on a sports event. The game is being played and you're not playing in the game, but people all over the country are betting on the outcome."

But as the economy soured and the subprime credit crunch began expanding into other credit areas over the past year, CDS investors became jittery. They wondered if the parties holding the CDS insurance after multiple trades would have the financial wherewithal to pay up in the event of mass defaults. "In the past six to eight months, there's been a deterioration in market liquidity and the ability to get willing buyers for structured finance securities," causing the values of the securities to fall, said Glenn Arden, a partner at Jones Day who heads up the firm's worldwide securitization practice and New York derivative.

The situation is already taking a toll on insurers, who have been forced to write down the value of their CDS portfolios. American International Group, the world's largest insurer, recently reported the biggest loss in the company's history largely due to an $11 billion writedown on its CDS holdings. Even Swiss Reinsurance Co., the industry's largest reinsurer, took CDS writedowns in the fourth quarter and warned of more to come in the first quarter of 2008.

Monoline bond insurance companies, such as MBIA and Ambac Financial Group Inc., have been hit the hardest as they scramble to raise capital to cover possible defaults and to stave off a downgrade from the ratings agencies. It was this group's foray out of its traditional municipal bonds and into mortgage-backed securities that caused the turmoil. A rating downgrade of the monoline companies could be devastating for banks and others who bought insurance protection from them to cover their corporate bond exposure.

The situation is exacerbated by the heavy trading volume of the instruments, the secrecy surrounding the trades, and — most importantly — the lack of regulation in this insurance contract business. "An original CDS can go through 15 or 20 trades," said Miller. "So when a default occurs, the so-called insured party or hedged party doesn't know who's responsible for making up the default and if that end player has the resources to cure the default."

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

State and Federal Electronic Government in the United States, 2008 - Brookings Institution

State and Federal Electronic Government in the United States, 2008 - Brookings Institution:

"The social and political impact of new technology long has been debated among observers. Throughout American history, technological innovations – from the movable-type printing press in the 15th century, the telegraph in 1844, and the telephone in 1876 to the rise of radio in the 1920s and coast-to-coast television broadcasting in 1946 – have sparked much speculation. Transformationalists often claim that new technology will produce widespread consequences. Incrementalists, on the other hand, point to the influence of institutional forces—such as structural fragmentation within government as well as issues related to the investment cost and organizational structures of state and federal government—in limiting the speed and breadth of technology’s impact on the public sector.

This report assesses the nature of American state and federal electronic government in 2008 by examining whether e-government effectively capitalizes on the interactive features available on the World Wide Web to improve service delivery and public outreach. Although considerable progress has been made over the past decade, e-government has fallen short of its potential to transform public-sector operations. This report closes by suggesting how public officials can take maximum advantage of technology to improve government performance.

These key findings come from the full report (PDF; 543 KB):

+ Eighty-nine percent of state and federal websites have services that are fully executable online, compared with 86 percent in 2007.

+ Three percent of government websites are accessible through personal digital assistants (PDAs), pagers or mobile phones, up from 1 percent last year.

+ Seventy-three percent of government websites have some form of privacy policy available online (the same as last year), and 58 percent have a visible security policy (up from 52 percent last year).

+ Forty percent of government websites offer some type of foreign language translation, up from 22 percent last year.

+ Sixty-four percent of government websites are written at the 12th-grade reading level or higher, which is much higher than that of the average American.

+ Seven percent of government websites have user fees.

+ Twenty-five percent of federal websites and 19 percent of state websites are accessible to the disabled.

+ The highest-ranking state websites belong to Delaware, Georgia, Florida, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Kentucky, Alabama, Indiana and Tennessee.

+ The top-ranking federal websites are the national portal, Department of Agriculture, General Services Administration, Postal Service, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Education, Small Business Administration, Library of Congress, Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board.

See also from Brookings:
+ Improving Technology Utilization in Electronic Government around the World, 2008"

Courtesy of the ResourceShelf

con·cept: September 2008