Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bush = McCain? Nope

McCain a Bush clone? These numbers dispute that

Does John McCain represent a third Bush term? The Obama campaign claims the two are almost indistinguishable. It was the mantra during the Democratic convention, and it is the theme of new ads Barack Obama is running. The ads claim that McCain is "no maverick when he votes with Bush 90 percent of the time."
As it's being used, the 90 percent figure, from Congressional Quarterly, is nonsensical. As Washington Post congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman explained, "The vast majority of those votes are procedural, and virtually every member of Congress votes with his or her leadership on procedural motions."
Obama might want to be a little careful with these attacks, as the same measure has him voting with Democrats 97 percent of the time.
Well-known organizations that rank congressional voting include the American Conservative Union on the right, Americans for Democratic Action on the left, and the nonpartisan National Journal in the middle. The League of Conservation Voters also ranks politicians from an environmentalist position......
These groups' rankings from 2001 to 2007 paint fairly similar pictures, putting McCain to the left of most Republican senators and to the right of most Democratic senators - though usually much closer to the average Republican......

The American Conservative Union finds that the average Republican senator voted conservatively 85 percent of the time, and that the average Democrat voted conservatively 13 percent of the time. McCain voted conservatively 74 percent of the time.

Although it's at the opposite end of the political spectrum, Americans for Democratic Action essentially agreed. It found that the average Republican senator voted liberally just over 12 percent of the time, and the average Democrat voted liberally 89 percent of the time. McCain voted liberally 24 percent of the time - twice as frequently as the average Republican......
According to the League of Conservation Voters, John McCain is the ultimate centrist. While the average Republican supported liberal environmentalist positions 13 percent of the time, and the average Democrat supported them 76 percent of the time, McCain's 44 percent put him in the middle......
Another way to look at these numbers is to see how many of the 99 other senators voted more conservatively than McCain. In 2006, these four groups ranked McCain as the 47th, 46th, 44th and 51st most conservative member of the Senate, respectively. Surely, McCain is not nearly as liberal as the typical Democratic senator, but rankings from the left, middle and right find he is more liberal than the vast majority of Republicans in the Senate......
In contrast to the very liberal ratings given to Obama, the interest groups find that there are about as many senators to McCain's right as there are to his left. This might not endear him to many conservatives or liberals. But it is a real distortion to claim he is a Bush clone.  MORE....

Russian warships in Syrian port

This is number 7 !

  1. Invasion of Georgia
  2. Recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia
  3. Sending Bomber to 'visit' Chavez
  4. Signing mutual defense agreements with S. Ossetia and Abkhazia
  5. Signing contracts with Iran for S-300 surface to air missiles, adding on to the 29 Tor -M1 Missiles they've already delivered
  6. Negotiating with Venezuela for missile defense systems, SU-35 jets, and other military hardware.
  7. Russian warships in Syrian Port
At some point, the West is going to have to say NYET!

TARTUS, Syria, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Ten Russian warships are docked in the Syrian port city of Tartus to the apparent surprise of the Israelimilitary, military sources say.

The unidentified sources said Israeli military leaders were unaware that Russian had already moved so many vessels into Syrian territory following a Sept. 12 agreement between the two countries, DEBKAfile, a Israeli news Web site, reported Friday.
The military intelligence Web site said the agreement reached between Russian navy commander Adm. Vladimir Wysotsky and Syrian naval commander Gen. Taleb al-Barri allows Russia to use Syrian ports as long-term naval bases.
Rear Adm. Baranov said that the Russian vessels are in Tartus to help widen the harbor to accommodate additional vessels in the future.
Such a potential increased military presence by Russian in Syria has Israeli officials concerned that their nearby country could be forced into a potential international conflict. DEBKAfile said some Israeli officials fear Russia is preparing for a showdown with the United States and NATO regarding the situation in Georgia and the rest of the Caucasus region.  MORE....

Huricane proof house

The last house standing
Since I moved to hurricane country in 1998, I've asked the same question each year; why aren't builders required to construct homes that are hurricane proof?  Given the billions of dollars in hurricane destruction that goes on year after year, you would think that enough of a critical mass of concerned people would have formed by now to have affected this.  Guess not.

But here's the visible proof that it can be accomplished......

Yesterday, received an amazing submission from austinheli. His photos showed a lone house standing in a wasteland left in Ike's aftermath.
austinheli, is Ray Asgar, a private helicopter pilot based in Austin, Texas. He visited Gilchrist and Galveston Monday to photograph the damage left after Hurricane Ike slammed the coastal area last weekend.
The lone yellow house caught Asgar's attention. He said it was the only structure standing for miles. Considering the extent of Ike's devastation, he said, it was "odd to have nearly any damage to one home."
Pam and Warren Adams rebuilt their home in February 2006 after Hurricane Rita destroyed it the previous year. Hudspeth said that the couple hired a contractor to build a home that could withstand a Category 5 hurricane. Warren Adams watched over every step of the construction to make sure it was done correctly. 
The question that State, County and local officials in the hurricane prone US coastal areas must be asked, is why aren't all homes required to be built this way?

Buyer Beware

Chocoholics sour on new Hershey’s formula

Former fans kissed off about replacement of cocoa butter with vegetable oil

Products such as Whatchamacallit, Milk Duds, Mr. Goodbar and Krackel no longer have milk chocolate coatings, and Hershey’s Kissables are now labeled “chocolate candy” instead of “milk chocolate.”
The removal of cocoa butter violates the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s definition of milk chocolate, so subtle changes have appeared on the labels of the Hershey’s products with altered recipes. Products once labeled “milk chocolate” now say “chocolate candy,” “made with chocolate” or “chocolatey.”
Some say the label changes are too difficult to spot.
“A lot of people don’t notice it. The package looks exactly the same,” said Cybele May, who has chronicled the changes in detail on her Candy Blog

President's Race

Where The Presidential Candidates Stand On 22 Issues

Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama will share the stage this Friday for the first of three presidential candidate forums.
The first, to be held at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss, will focus on domestic issues. The second, on Oct. 7 at Belmont University in Nashville, will be a town-hall format with questions submitted by the audience. The third, on Oct. 15 at Hofstra University in New York, is devoted to foreign policy questions.
A debate between the vice presidential candidates, Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sarah Palin, is scheduled for Oct. 2 at Washington University in St. Louis.
Here is a snapshot of where the presidential candidates stand, and a look into what has been found about the public's mood, on 22 issues:  Read....

Antonio Pigafetta

It was on this day in 1519 that Ferdinand Magellan departed on the first successful circumnavigation of the world.
Antonio Pigafetta
Setting off with five ships and 270 men funded by Charles I, the King of Spain (although Magellan was Portuguese, the King of Portugal declined the investment opportunity), Ferdinand had the adventure of his lifetime.
The Spanish captains didn't trust Magellan because he was Portuguese, a foreigner, and three of them plotted to kill Magellan. He stopped the mutiny by imprisoning the ringleader, Cartagena, aboard a different ship. They reached South America by December and spent the winter in Patagonia, where one of the captains freed Cartagena, and they led another mutiny. Magellan marooned Cartagena in Patagonia, executed the remaining rebels, and set off to look for a passage to the other side of the continent.
In May, one of his ships was wrecked in bad weather, but the other four sailed through a strait that Magellan named All Saints' — it was later renamed the Strait of Magellan. It took them 38 days to make it through the strait, and during that time, one of the ships' captains turned his ship around to sail back to Spain, taking with him most of the provisions for the whole fleet. But the remaining three ships got to the other side and emerged into the ocean, and Magellan named the ocean the Pacific because it was so calm. Magellan thought the Pacific was small; he thought they could cross it and reach the Spice Islands in two or three days. But it actually took four months. They arrived in the Philippines in March of 1521. Magellan made friends with a local king, agreed to help him attack the neighboring island, and was killed during the battle with that tribe. There were three ships left, and 115 men.
After Magellan died, Sebastian del Cano took over as captain, and since there weren't enough men left to crew three ships, he had one of the ships burned. They left the Philippines in May and made it to the Moluccas, the Spice Islands, six months later. Del Cano wanted to make sure that at least one ship made it back to Spain, so he sent one back, east across the Pacific, and the other one continued west. The eastward-bound ship was attacked by the Portuguese, who killed most of the crew. The westward-bound ship crossed the Indian Ocean, sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived in Spain almost three years after it had departed with Magellan. 
Despite having his adventure, and his life, truncated by his participation in a local Philippine war, Ferdinand is still usually associated with circumnavigating the globe.  However, it is because of just one of the only 18 surviving crew members who completed the journey by returning to Spain, that we know the whole story.  Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian crew member and a supporter of Magellan, was the one who kept a detailed diary.  It is because of  Antonio Pigafetta, that we know the details of that momentous journey to circumnavigate the globe.

Not Greed, Not Corruption, Regulation Is The Villan

"Mark To Market"

If you've read my posting recently you've probably noticed a continuing issue ranted about.  Most of our politicians are not steeped in economics, let alone business, but they are steeped in demagoguery.  As a result they spew forth populist rhetoric filled with vitriol and ....nonsense.

John McCain and Sarah Palin have gone on about greed and corruption on Wall Street, while Barack Obama has blamed it all on Republican and lobbyists.  Neither is correct.  The villain is the legislation and regulations put in place the last few years by our legalistic Representatives.  The  Sarbanes-Oxley Act not only put an excess managerial burden and cost on US businesses, but drove a significant portion of the Securities industry to London in order to escape this burdensome regulation.  And now the "mark to market" requirements imposed by FASB and the SEC has been the accounting equivalent of the Ebola virus, cascading through the financial markets.  John Berlau, in today's Wall Street Journal, casts more light on this requirement's role in the crisis.  Secretary Paulson should reassess his position on changing this toxic regulation.

The method of disease transmission is still somewhat of a mystery. The latest mortgage delinquency rate is just 6.4% -- historically high, but not anywhere close to the mortgage default rate of over 40% in the depths of the Great Depression.
Helping to spread the contagion is a relatively new accounting method called "mark to market." For decades, lenders used historical cost accounting, meaning that a loan would be booked at its cost at the time it was made. Payments would be recorded as they came in, and the book value of the loan would only change if it was sold or became impaired, perhaps because of default.
The pressure to change this method came after the collapse of U.S. savings and loans in the 1980s, and the Japanese banking crisis of the '90s. Regulators and accounting bodies argued that traditional accounting allowed banks to "hide" bad assets on their books, and that financial instruments needed to be valued based on what they would trade for in a market today.
So over the past decade, various mark-to-market accounting rules became part of the official U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), and began to be required by the Securities and Exchange Commission, bank regulatory agencies, credit rating agencies and in the Basel II international framework for measuring bank solvency.
This supposed "reform" is exacerbating the current crisis. Markets for individual loans are still much thinner than for stocks and bonds. The market for securitized loans with unique features is even thinner, and a disruptive event can cause these markets to virtually disappear. As a result, if a highly leveraged bank sells a mortgage-backed security at a steep discount, this becomes the "market price."
Financial Accounting Standard 157, which U.S. regulatory agencies put into effect last November, requires accountants to look at market "inputs" from sales of similar financial assets even if there isn't an active trading market. That means that less-leveraged banks holding mortgages that haven't been impaired often have to adjust their books based on another bank's sale -- even if they plan to hold their loans to maturity. Yale finance Prof. Gary Gorton wrote in a paper presented last month at the Federal Reserve's summer symposium: "With no liquidity and no market prices, the accounting practice of 'marking-to-market' became highly problematic and resulted in massive write-downs based on fire-sale prices and estimates."
These write-downs, based on accounting standards, can jeopardize balance sheets and solvency -- much like a spreading contagion. In effect, a single bank's fire sale can decrease the "regulatory capital" (or the total dollar value of assets that government regulations require banks and other financial institutions to keep as a reserve to immediately make good on their obligations to depositors and other creditors) of others. So "partly as a result of GAAP capital declines, banks are selling . . . billions of dollars of assets -- to 'clean up their balance sheets,'" notes Mr. Gorton, creating a "downward spiral of prices, marking down -- selling -- marking down again."
These rules also affect credit insurance of the type that AIG was providing. As Barron's reported earlier this year, because of the ongoing fire sales of mortgage instruments, "accountants were forcing AIG to boost its fourth-quarter write-down of the value of its credit insurance on a large mortgage security portfolio from $1.6 billion to $5.2 billion." Barron's also noted that AIG was "likely looking at even bigger mark-to-market hits" later on.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has pushed through many creative measures attempting to shore up the financial system. But he won't budge on mark-to-market accounting. "I think it's hard to run a financial institution if you don't have the discipline which requires you to mark securities to market," he declared in a speech at the New York Public Library in July. Financial firms, he said, shouldn't expect much relief.
But relatively simple changes to mark-to-market rules, like suspending the rules for illiquid but performing loans if a firm meets other solvency requirements, would lead to more accurate information and could quell demands for more "emergency" bailouts such as that of AIG. This kind of reform should be a top priority of any new administration promising "change."


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