Archive | February, 2013

Rick Perry: Boy Scouts Should Keep Anti-Gay Policy

4 Feb

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) ? Texas Gov. Rick Perry said emphatically Saturday that the Boy Scouts of America shouldn’t soften its strict no-gays membership policy, and dismissed the idea of bending the organization to the whims of “popular culture.”

Perry is an Eagle Scout and in 2008 he authored the book “On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For.” It detailed the governor’s deep love for the organization and explained why it should continue to embrace traditional, conservative values ? including excluding openly gay members and Scout leaders.

America’s longest-serving governor addressed the Texas Scouts’ 64th annual Report to State, where hundreds of Scouts from around Texas filled the state House of Representatives to announce their delegation’s recent accomplishments.

Perry has addressed the gathering several times before, most recently in 2010, but not since the announcement that the Scouts’ national leadership is mulling scrapping the mandatory exclusion of gay members. Instead, the group could allow different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units to decide for themselves how to address the issue ? either maintaining the exclusion or opening up their membership.

Even though the Boy Scouts reaffirmed the no-gays policy just seven months ago, the proposal is expected to be discussed, and possibly voted on, at the meeting of the Scouts’ national executive board, which begins Monday in Irving, outside Dallas.

Perry told the youngsters that the Scouts was a key reason he joined the U.S. Air Force and later sought public office, and that society’s failure to adhere to the organization’s core values was a cause for high rates of teen pregnancy and wayward youth who grow up to be “men joining their fathers in prison.”

Speaking to reporters afterward, Perry said: “Hopefully the board will follow their historic position of keeping the Scouts strongly supportive of the values that make Scouting this very important and impactful organization.”

“I think most people see absolutely no reason to change the position and neither do I,” Perry said. He said his views on the subject haven’t changed since writing his book, in which he noted that profits would be donated to the Boy Scouts of America Legal Defense since “they continue to be under attack from the forces of secularism.”

Asked if he would feel different about the Scouts if the policy is changed, Perry wouldn’t say. But he added: “to have popular culture impact 100 years of their standards is inappropriate.”

He also disagreed that allowing members of all sexual preferences would make the Scouts more tolerant: “I think you get tolerance and diversity every day in Scouting.”

Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, said Saturday, “It’s a shame that Governor Perry has chosen to be on the wrong side of history.”

“Governor Perry and the Boy Scouts are both completely out of touch with where America is going on this issue,” he said “There should be one national, non-discrimination policy. We can’t quite wrap our heads around why that is so difficult to do in 2013.”

Perry wrote in his book that he doesn’t “believe the teaching of sexual preference fits within the parameters of Scouting’s mission,” but also made it very clear he’d like to keep gay members from joining.

“Because gay activism is central to their lives, it would unavoidably be a topic of conversation within a Scout troop. This would distract from the mission of Scouting: character building, not sex education,” he wrote.

Perry also questioned whether sexual preference is determined at birth or is a matter of personal choice in his book, and wrote that he doesn’t believe in “condemning homosexuals that I know personally.”

Zach Wahls is an Eagle Scout raised in Iowa by two lesbian moms who has become a leading activist against the no-gays policy. Wahls said by phone Saturday he believes national Scout leaders will soften the membership policy next week, and he hopes the move won’t make Perry won’t turn his back on the Scouts.

“We’ve been called bullies and had people say ‘you’re imposing your will,'” he said. “Our organization isn’t calling for the removal of anybody who disagrees with us. We support fully inclusive Scouting.”

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New measures to lift veil on banks’ capital ratios

3 Feb

LONDON (Reuters) – The game may soon be up for banks that have made themselves look healthier by understating how risky their businesses are, which should help pension funds, savers and companies to decide which institutions to invest in.

Bowing to pressure from regulators and investors, some of the world’s biggest banks will soon implement a landmark initiative that promises to reveal far more detail on how banks calculate how much capital they need to guard against potential future losses.

It’s designed to restore faith in the capital ratios that are the global benchmark for banks’ financial health, ratios that are highly sensitive to banks’ risk judgments since they are determined as a percentage of banks’ own measure of assets as weighted by risk.

“We’re expecting a lot of good disclosure from the banks, and where it’s not happening we’re expecting institutional investors to challenge management on why they’re not doing so,” said Russell Picot, chief accounting officer at bank HSBC and co-chair of the industry taskforce that came up with the new standards for what banks should tell investors.

The initiative was instigated by global financial rules setter the Financial Stability Board (FSB).

A study by the Basel Committee last week showed precisely why it is necessary, revealing that the most aggressive banks assign just one eighth of the risk weighting applied by their most conservative competitors, making their capital position appear far more robust.

Deutsche Bank came under fire on Thursday when it told investors that it managed a better-than-expected improvement to its capital ratio in the fourth quarter, despite losing 2.5 billion euros ($3.4 billion), largely by changing its approach to risk-weighted assets (RWAs).


Even analysts who specialize in banks’ finances are unable to unravel the figures and work out which banks are really the healthiest or making the most progress, because of inadequate disclosure.

The new measures, which have been publicly endorsed by industry giants including HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Santander , will reveal key insights on the RWAs that feed into the banks’ capital calculations.

Newly available information will include how much of their RWA improvements come from “optimization”, or model changes such as Deutsche Bank revealed last week.

“There may be a bank that is neither well capitalized nor liquid, and they may feel concerned that by publishing in greater detail, it will become even more obvious,” Picot said.

“The message for them has to be that the market is pretty good right now at understanding banks’ shortcomings.”

Some banks will show their hands in the 2012 annual reports they will publish in the coming weeks. Stragglers are expected to follow suit later in the year as the transparency drive intensifies.

The capital disclosure measures are part of a broader suite of reporting enhancements devised by a taskforce of the world’s biggest banks, money managers, research houses and accountancy firms to address concerns about banks’ often opaque accounting.

The initiative Picot co-chaired began on a wintry day in Basel in December 2011, when 82 senior executives convened for what one attendee described as a “frank” round-table debate on how banks could improve the way they report their results.


The FSB, headed by the Bank of England’s incoming Governor Mark Carney, wanted to restore investor confidence in banks rocked by the market turmoil that began in 2008 and has yet to abate.

“The FSB felt that certain risk information was needed by participants right now,” said Gerald Edwards, a senior official with the U.S. Federal Reserve Board who was closely involved with the taskforce while on secondment to the FSB in 2011.

The taskforce executives, drawn from global leaders including BlackRock, BNP Paribas, Allianz, Ernst & Young, Fitch Ratings, JP Morgan, Royal Bank of Canada, Santander and KPMG, began work in earnest in May 2012 and were given until October to finish.

Such was the intensity of the job that HSBC’s Picot said he had two of his bank’s staff working on it full time and recalls getting emails at midnight on a Sunday from one of the taskforce’s subgroups.

With the task completed in a fraction of the time formal regulation would have taken, the focus is now on implementation.

Picot said there was no set target for take-up, but he expected to see some banks incorporate the new measures in their 2012 annual reports.

“We would hope that in a particular country, a bank that adopts this report and adopts it well will reset the level of what is considered good disclosure, and that other banks would adopt similar practices, and from that, the tide would rise,” he added.

Regulators across the globe, who had extensive engagement with the taskforce, are also keenly following progress and will be encouraging their banks to opt in, according to Picot and Edwards.

Those who don’t, may end up having to give more information anyway. “Some of this will be picked up and put into regulations,” said Edwards.


The effort does have its doubters, including Dierk Brandenburg, banking analyst with Fidelity Worldwide Investments.

“We remain skeptical that banks across a wide variety of jurisdictions (Europe, U.S. and Asia) and accounting regimes … are in a position to meet the requirements,” he said, adding that the increased links between governments and rescued banks could “put a limit to what authorities may deem to be the appropriate level of disclosure to investors”.

Crispin Southgate, a taskforce member and director of Institutional Investment Advisors, has high hopes for banks’ voluntary adoption, nonetheless.

Banks were consulted and were “very responsive”, he said.

“This report is setting a marker for some very high standards, which we hope banks will reach for … We don’t want banks to wait for new rules.”

(Reporting By Laura Noonan; Editing by Will Waterman)


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Target ‘super-spreaders’ to stop hepatitis C

3 Feb

Friday, February 1, 2013

Each intravenous drug user contracting Hepatitis C is likely to infect around 20 other people with the virus, half of these transmissions occurring in the first two years after the user is first infected, a new study estimates.

The work, led by researchers from Oxford University, suggests that early diagnosis and treatment of Hepatitis C in intravenous drug users could prevent many transmissions by limiting the impact of these ‘super-spreaders’ (a highly infectious person who spreads a disease to many other people).

Working out ‘who has infected who’ in fast-spreading diseases such as influenza is often relatively straightforward, but in slow-spreading diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV, where instances of transmission are spread over months or years, it is extremely difficult. The new approach, developed by a team from Oxford University, University of Athens and Imperial College, combines epidemiological surveillance and molecular data to describe in detail, for the first time, how Hepatitis C spreads in a population.

A report of the research appears in this week’s PLOS Computational Biology.

‘For the first time we show that super-spreading in Hepatitis C is led by intravenous drug users early in their infection,’ said Dr Gkikas Magiorkinis of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, lead author of the study. ‘Using this information we can hopefully soon make a solid argument to support the scaling-up of early diagnosis and antiviral treatment in drug users. Helping these people and stopping the spread of Hepatitis C is our ultimate target.’

The World Health Organisation has identified Hepatitis C as a major public health problem: up to 180 million people worldwide live with the virus, most are unaware that they have been infected and remain undiagnosed for more than 10 years. 20% of those infected will develop cancer or liver scarring (cirrhosis) after 20 years of infection, at which point the only treatment is liver transplantation, which costs around ?100,000 ($160,000) for each patient.

Unlike other forms of Hepatitis there is currently no vaccine available for Hepatitis C, although there are effective treatments. The virus mainly transmits through contaminated blood and before 1990 the major transmission route was blood transfusions and blood products. Since screening for blood transfusions was introduced, after the discovery of the virus in 1989, the only significant transmission route for Hepatitis C is now intravenous drug use ? users are at risk through the sharing and re-use of syringes.

‘Working out how many people are likely to be infected by each ‘super-spreader’ of Hepatitis C, as well as how soon they will be infected, has been a puzzle for over 20 years,’ said Dr Magiorkinis. ‘Our research has resolved this issue and paves the way for a modelling study to show what kind of public health interventions could really make a difference. Our approach should also be very useful to those studying HIV.’

The research draws on data from four Hepatitis C epidemics in Greece, using information on 943 patients in treatment studies between 1995 and 2000, and around 100 genetic sequences representative of the epidemic taken from frozen plasma samples collected between 1996 and 2006. The team then used a mathematical model to estimate the variance of secondary infection and how long it takes for such infection to occur.


University of Oxford:

Thanks to University of Oxford for this article.

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