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Archive for July, 2011

On Europe’s Fringes: Russia, Turkey and the European Union

July 31, 2011 Comments off

On Europe’s Fringes: Russia, Turkey and the European Union
Source: Chatham House

  • Russia and Turkey, significant powers on the fringes of the European Union, both have awkward relations with Brussels.
  • As Russia’s and Turkey’s strength becomes greater and the EU’s declines, the relationships between them will increasingly involve political as well as economic factors.
  • Turkey is economically and politically closer to Europe than Russia is, while Russia’s relationship with Europe mainly consists of a mutual energy dependency.
  • Russia’s unpredictable business environment remains a key constraint on its deeper integration with the EU. The Turkish economy faces challenges, but Turkey has a much better business environment than Russia.
  • The EU’s own economic deficiencies suggest that it needs to remain circumspect in dealing with both countries. But Turkey, in particular, should be considered more of a foreign policy partner.
  • + Full Paper (PDF)

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    Stopping the Mortality Crisis in Ukraine

    July 31, 2011 Comments off

    Stopping the Mortality Crisis in Ukraine
    Source: World Bank

    Ukrainians have a high risk of dying prematurely. Nearly half of the adult population, many of them young, suffers from one or more chronic disease, say the World Bank and the Ukrainian Medical Union (UMU) in a new study “What Underlies Ukraine’s Mortality Crisis.” Rich and poor alike suffer from these conditions, according to the study. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and contributes to over half of the disease burden. Why is the Ukrainian population so careless about its health?

    “Taking care of your health is one of the elements of our people’s culture. That is the first factor. The second factor is a trust towards doctors, the trust towards the quality of services provided by the state healthcare system. Both factors are very important. Patients should take care of their health. For example, they should immediately visit doctors to be diagnosed when they have pain in their chest, or they get winded, or have an abnormal heart rate,” says Vitaliy Averchuk, a Lviv cardiac surgeon who has saved a lot of people’s lives.

    + Full Report (PDF)

    Country Specific Information: Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba (BES)

    July 31, 2011 Comments off

    Country Specific Information: Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba (BES)
    Source: U.S. Department of State

    COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The three “BES” islands of Bonaire, St. Eustatius (or “Statia”) and Saba comprise the Caribbean portion of the Netherlands. Along with Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten these special overseas municipalities of The Netherlands are also part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. These are listed separately as they are semi-autonomous entities within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The economies of the BES islands are well-developed and tourist facilities are widely available.

    Country Specific Information: Azerbaijan

    July 31, 2011 Comments off

    Country Specific Information: Azerbaijan
    Source: U.S. Department of State

    July 21, 2011

    COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Azerbaijan is a constitutional republic with a developing economy. Western-style amenities are found in the capital, Baku, but infrastructure and access to goods and services outside the city are less well developed. Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Azerbaijan for additional information.

    Country Specific Information: Latvia

    July 31, 2011 Comments off

    Country Specific Information: Latvia
    Source: U.S. Department of State

    July 15, 2011

    COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Latvia is a stable democracy with a developing economy. Most tourist facilities found in a western European city are available in the capital city, Riga. However, some of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available in other parts of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Latvia for additional information.

    Country Specific Information: Mali

    July 31, 2011 Comments off

    Country Specific Information: Mali
    Source: U.S. Department of State

    July 27, 2011

    COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Mali is a developing country in western Africa with a stable and democratic government. The official language is French; however, thirteen local languages are also spoken and have status as national languages, with Bambara serving as lingua franca. The capital of Mali is Bamako (1.8 million, 2009 census estimate). Facilities for tourism are limited, though they are developing. There is a serious threat of terrorist activities in Mali’s three northern regions (Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal, which make up nearly 60 percent of the country’s area). The terrorist group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) continues to use northern Mali as an active area of operations as well as a safe haven, notably for detaining hostages. Please refer to the Department of StateBackground Notes on Mali for additional information.

    Country Specific Information: Georgia

    July 31, 2011 Comments off

    Country Specific Information: Georgia
    Source: U.S. Department of State

    July 27, 2011

    COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Georgia is a constitutional republic with a developing democracy and economy. Tourist facilities outside of Tbilisi are not highly developed, and many of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available. Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Georgia for additional information.

    Country Specific Information: India

    July 31, 2011 Comments off

    Country Specific Information: India
    Source: U.S. Department of State

    July 28, 2011

    COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: India, the world’s largest democracy, has a very diverse population, geography, and climate. India is the world’s second most populous country, and the world’s seventh largest country in area. Tourist facilities offer varying degrees of comfort.  Amenities are widely available in large cities and tourist areas. Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on India for additional information.

    State Department Travel Warning: Columbia

    July 31, 2011 Comments off

    State Department Travel Warning: Columbia
    Source: U.S. Department of State

    The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the dangers of travel to Colombia. Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations like Cartagena and Bogota, but violence by narco-terrorist groups continues to affect some rural areas and large cities. This updates and replaces the Travel Warning for Colombia issued November 10, 2010 to update information on recent security incidents and terrorist activity.

    Terrorist activity remains a threat throughout the country. On August 12, 2010, a car bomb exploded outside the Caracol radio station in Bogota, injuring seven people. On October 21, 2010, Colombian authorities foiled another car bomb attack directed at the National Administrative Center in Bogota. On June 16, 2011, a satchel bomb exploded at a local monument in uptown Bogota, resulting in some damage to adjoining buildings, but no fatalities or injuries. Small towns and rural areas of Colombia can still be extremely dangerous due to the presence of narco-terrorists. While the Embassy possesses no information concerning specific and credible threats against U.S. citizens in Colombia, we strongly encourage you to exercise caution and remain vigilant.

    The incidence of kidnapping in Colombia has diminished significantly from its peak at the beginning of this decade. Nevertheless, terrorist groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and other criminal organizations continue to kidnap and hold civilians for ransom or as political bargaining chips. No one is immune from kidnapping on the basis of occupation, nationality, or other factors. Kidnapping remains a serious threat, with two kidnapping cases of U.S. citizens reported since August 2010. One kidnapped citizen was rescued within 4 days and the other case resulted in the murder of the victim. Kidnapping in rural areas is of particular concern. On July 2, 2008, the Government of Colombia rescued 15 hostages, including three U.S. citizens, who had been held for more than five years. Although the U.S. government places the highest priority on the safe recovery of kidnapped U.S. citizens, it is U.S. policy not to make concessions to or strike deals with kidnappers. Consequently, the U.S. government’s ability to assist kidnapping victims is limited.

    State Department Travel Warning: Central African Republic

    July 31, 2011 Comments off

    State Department Travel Warning: Central African Republic
    Source: U.S. Department of State

    The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to the Central African Republic (CAR), and recommends against all but essential travel outside the capital, Bangui. Travelers in the CAR should exercise extreme caution. This replaces the Travel Warning of January 14, 2011, to reflect the current security situation and the potential for spontaneous demonstrations.

    Armed militia groups, bandits, and poachers present real dangers, and the Central African government is unable to guarantee the safety of visitors in most parts of the country. There have been repeated attacks on Central African and expatriate travelers in the countryside. Poachers and armed men also pose a threat to game hunters in northern and eastern CAR. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) poses a similar threat to hunters in eastern CAR.

    Bangui suffers from elevated crime rates for both petty and violent crime, as well as particularly limited transport and medical options. CAR military and civilian security forces (and people posing as such) staff checkpoints throughout the city, frequently harassing international residents and visitors for bribes. Spontaneous demonstrations take place in CAR from time to time in response to world events or local developments. We remind you that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. You are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any public gatherings. You should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times.

    FTC Testifies on Consumer Protection and the Rent-to-Own Industry

    July 30, 2011 Comments off

    FTC Testifies on Consumer Protection and the Rent-to-Own Industry
    Source: Federal Trade Commission

    The Federal Trade Commission testified today on consumer protection issues relating to the rent-to-own industry. The testimony described the agency’s role in enforcing laws relating to financial issues, provided background on the rent-to-own industry, and described key findings of a 2000 report published by the FTC’s Bureau of Economics on the rent-to-own industry.

    The testimony was presented by Bureau of Consumer Protection Deputy Director Charles Harwood, who told the House of Representatives Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee of the Financial Services Committee that the rent-to-own industry – known as RTO – consists of dealers that rent products to consumers, with an option to buy.

    Typically, RTO agreements do not require a down payment or credit check, and provide consumers with immediate access to household goods for a weekly or monthly payment. They may be attractive to consumers who cannot afford a cash purchase, may be unable to qualify for traditional credit, or who want a product right away without the need to pay the full purchase price.

    The FTC testimony noted concerns expressed by consumer advocates and others, such as the prices charged for buying RTO merchandise, which can be two to three times higher than retail price; the way consumers are treated during collection of overdue payments; and whether consumers receive enough information about RTO transactions, including disclosures about whether the merchandise they are renting is new or used. According to the testimony, RTO transactions currently are not specifically covered by federal laws that govern credit or lease transactions.

    A report on the RTO industry published by the FTC’s Bureau of Economics in 2000 found that customers ultimately purchased 70 percent of the merchandise they obtained through RTO transactions. Most of these customers intended to buy the product when they signed the RTO contract. In general, the report found that three-quarters of all RTO customers were satisfied with their RTO experience.

    + Text of testimony (PDF)
    + Survey of Rent-to-Own Customers

    Watchdog Groups Identify Nearly $600 Billion in National Security Spending Cuts

    July 30, 2011 Comments off

    Watchdog Groups Identify Nearly $600 Billion in National Security Spending Cuts
    Source: Project on Government Oversight and Taxpayers for Common Sense

    The federal government could save $586 billion over the next 10 years by cutting unneeded weapons, reining in out-of-control private contracts, reforming the military health care system and reducing the number of U.S. troops in Europe, under a set of proposed spending cuts identified today by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and Taxpayers for Common Sense.

    While the Senate’s “Gang of Six” has proposed a substantial cut in defense spending, their plan lacks specifics. The proposals by POGO and Taxpayers for Common Sense provide a detailed blueprint on how to achieve the savings.

    The report released by the watchdog groups reduces the deficit by targeting weapons that even the Pentagon says it doesn’t need or want. The plan also singles out the expense of paying private contractors to perform tasks that federal employees could do just as effectively and at a lower cost. Reducing service contracts by 15 percent could save $373 billion over the next 10 years.

    The spending cuts targeted by POGO and Taxpayers for Common Sense, include:

    • $300 billion by reducing Department of Defense (DoD) service contracts by 15 percent;
    • $72 billion by reducing non-DoD service contracts by 15 percent;
    • $60 billion through reforms to the DoD’s TRICARE health care system;
    • $44 billion by replacing two of the three F-35 variants with the less expensive F/A-18 E/F’s;
    • $30 billion by withdrawing 20,000 troops from Europe, and
    • $12 billion by not renewing the procurement contract for the V-22 Osprey.

    + Full Proposal

    Debt Limit Debate Round-Up

    July 30, 2011 Comments off

    Debt Limit Debate Round-Up
    Source: FactCheck.org

    The last few weeks have been filled with debate, accusations, stalemate and false claims about the debt ceiling and how — and whether — it should be raised. As the Aug. 2 default deadline looms, here’s a look at the less-than-factual talking points we’ve addressed.

    Republicans constantly repeat that President Obama is demanding a “blank check,” when in fact he’s seeking borrowing authority to pay obligations already approved by Congress — and has said he’d accept deep spending cuts to get approval of that authority. For his part, the president has said raising the debt limit has been “routine” for every president since the 1950s. True, but his request is anything but routine; it would be the largest increase in history, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

    Some in the GOP have claimed that the government could continue to make interest payments on the debt and avoid default, even without borrowing any more. But to do that, the government would have to cut all non-interest spending by 34 percent next fiscal year to make ends meet. And if some programs (like Social Security or Medicare) were cut less, others would have to be cut even more deeply.

    Read on to the Analysis for more on these claims and others from the debt-limit debate.

    Big Oil Pumps Up Profits with Taxpayer Subsidies as Deficit Mounts

    July 30, 2011 Comments off

    Big Oil Pumps Up Profits with Taxpayer Subsidies as Deficit Mounts
    Source: Center for American Progress

    This week, while the debt ceiling fight remains unresolved and conservatives in Congress ask for more spending cuts without closing tax loopholes, the five Big Oil companies—ExxonMobil, BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and Shell—posted massive second-quarter profits thanks in no small part to billions in unnecessary subsidies and record-high gas prices paid by American taxpayers. The column “Big Oil Pumps Up Profits with Americans’ Cash” and accompanying chart, released today by the Center for American Progress, shows that in addition to paying more than $4 billion in unnecessary tax subsidies for domestic oil drilling and production every year, Americans have been paying more than a third more at the pump than they were just a year ago.

    All five companies sat squarely in the black with $35.1 billion in combined second-quarter profits, 9 percent higher than in 2010. Exxon, at a whopping $10.7 billion, reported the largest profits by far. Shell saw an $8 billion profit for the quarter, a 77 percent increase from last year, putting the company on track to meet or exceed its 2008 record of $31.4 billion—the most a British company has ever earned in a single year. Even BP clocked in at $5.3 billion little more than a year after the fatal Deepwater Horizon disaster rocked the U.S. Gulf Coast, forcing BP to put $20 billion in an escrow fund for people harmed by the blowout.

    + View data comparing Big Oil profits to prices for oil and gasoline (.xls)

    FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research develops strategic science and research agenda

    July 30, 2011 Comments off

    FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research develops strategic science and research agenda
    Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

    A U.S. Food and Drug Administration report from its Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), available today in the Federal Register, identifies the current regulatory science needs that will guide CDER’s strategic planning of internal research initiatives and contributions to the development of agency regulatory science efforts.

    “Communicating our science and research needs represents an important step in stimulating research and fostering collaborations with our external partners,” said CDER director Janet Woodcock, M.D. “We look forward to hearing from and working with our stakeholders.”

    The report, “Identifying CDER’s Science and Research Needs Report,” identifies the following categories of science and research needs:

    • Improve access to post-market data sources and explore feasibility of their use in different types of analyses
    • Improve risk assessment and management strategies to reinforce the safe use of drugs
    • Evaluate the effectiveness and impact of different types of regulatory communications to the public and other stakeholders
    • Evaluate the link among product quality attributes, manufacturing processes and product performance
    • Develop and improve predictive models of safety and efficacy in humans
    • Improve clinical trial design, analysis and conduct
    • Enhance individualization of patient treatment

    + Science and Research Needs Report

    National Income and Product Accounts — Gross Domestic Product: Second Quarter 2011 (Advance Estimate) — Revised Estimates: 2003 through First Quarter 2011

    July 30, 2011 Comments off

    National Income and Product Accounts — Gross Domestic Product: Second Quarter 2011 (Advance Estimate) — Revised Estimates: 2003 through First Quarter 2011
    Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

    Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States — increased at an annual rate of 1.3 percent in the second quarter of 2011, (that is, from the first quarter to the second quarter), according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP increased 0.4 percent.

    The Bureau emphasized that the second-quarter advance estimate released today is based on source data that are incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency (see the box on page 3). The “second” estimate for the second quarter, based on more complete data, will be released on August 26, 2011.

    The estimates released today reflect the annual revision of the national income and product accounts (NIPAs). In addition to the regular revision of estimates for the most recent 3 years and the first quarter of 2011, current-dollar GDP and some components are revised back to the first quarter of 2003. In cases for which the estimates for the reference year (2005) are revised, this results in revisions to the levels of the related index numbers and chained-dollar estimates for the entire historical period; revisions to percent changes before the first quarter of 2003 are small. Annual revisions, which are usually released in July, incorporate source data that are more complete, more detailed, and otherwise more reliable than those previously available. This release includes the revised quarterly estimates of GDP, corporate profits, and personal income and provides an overview of the results of the revision.

    Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime

    July 30, 2011 Comments off

    Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime
    Source: National Security Council

    The Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime applies all elements of national power to protect citizens and U.S. national security interests from the convergence of 21st century transnational criminal threats. This Strategy is organized around a single unifying principle: to build, balance, and integrate the tools of American power to combat transnational organized crime and related threats to national secu- rity—and to urge our foreign partners to do the same. The end-state we seek is to reduce transnational organized crime (TOC) from a national security threat to a manageable public safety problem in the United States and in strategic regions around the world. The Strategy will achieve this end-state by pursuing five key policy objectives:

    1. Protect Americans and our partners from the harm, violence, and exploitation of transnational criminal networks.
    2. Help partner countries strengthen governance and transparency, break the corruptive power of transnational criminal networks, and sever state-crime alliances.
    3. Break the economic power of transnational criminal networks and protect strategic markets and the U.S. financial system from TOC penetration and abuse.
    4. Defeat transnational criminal networks that pose the greatest threat to national security by targeting their infrastructures, depriving them of their enabling means, and preventing the criminal facilitation of terrorist activities.
    5. Build international consensus, multilateral cooperation, and public-private partnerships to defeat transnational organized crime.

    The Strategy also introduces new and innovative capabilities and tools, which will be accomplished by prioritizing within the resources available to affected departments and agencies.

    Monthly Labor Review — July 2011

    July 30, 2011 Comments off

    Monthly Labor Review — July 2011
    Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


    Nonstandard work schedules over the life course: a first look
    Harriet B. Presser and Brian W. Ward
    Full text in PDF

    Tackling complexity in retirement benefits: challenges and directions for the NCS
    Keenan Dworak-Fisher and William J. Wiatrowski
    Full text in PDF

    What is a benefit plan? Clarifying the NCS definition as health and retirement benefits evolve
    Keenan Dworak-Fisher and William J. Wiatrowski
    Full text in PDF

    Monthly Labor Review, June 2011
    Entire July 2011 MLR
    in one PDF file (2.0M)

    Genworth 2011 Cost of Care Survey

    July 30, 2011 Comments off

    Genworth 2011 Cost of Care Survey (PDF)
    Source: Genworth

    Nearly two-thirds of people over age 65 will need long term care at home or through adult day health care, or care in an assisted living facility or nursing home. And while most people think of long term care as impacting only those in senior years, 40 percent of people currently receiving long term care services are ages 18 to 64.*

    The Genworth 2011 Cost of Care Survey can help families evaluate options to address the increasing cost of long term care. For the eighth year, Genworth has surveyed the cost of long term care across the U.S. to help Americans appropriately plan for the potential cost of this type of care in their preferred location and setting. The most comprehensive study of its kind, Genworth’s 2011 Cost of Care Survey, conducted by CareScout®, covers nearly 15,500 long term care providers in 437 regions nationwide.

    + Full Report

    The impact of differences between consumer- and creditor-purchased credit scores

    July 30, 2011 Comments off

    The impact of differences between consumer- and creditor-purchased credit scores (PDF)
    Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

    A credit score is a numerical summary of a consumer’s apparent creditworthiness, based on the consumer’s credit report, and reflects the relative likelihood that the consumer will default on a credit obligation. Credit scores can have a significant impact on a consumer’s financial life. Lenders rely on scores extensively in decision making, including the initial decisions of whether to lend and what loan terms to offer, for most types of credit, including mortgages, auto loans, and credit cards. Credit scores also influence the marketing offers that consumers receive, such as offers for credit cards. Further, credit scores affect account-management decisions, like raising or lowering credit limits or changing interest rates. A good credit score can mean access to a wide range of credit products at the better rates available in the market, while a bad credit score can lead to greatly reduced access to credit and much higher borrowing costs.

    Lenders use credit scores that are produced by many different scoring models. The most widely used scores are the “FICO scores” sold by FICO (the brand used to identify the Fair Isaac Corporation). There are a number of FICO score models in use by lenders, and many other credit score models besides the FICO scores. Consumers can also purchase a wide range of credit scores. Some scores sold to consumers are used by lenders, but others, referred to as “educational scores,” are either not used by lenders at all or are used only infrequently. It is important to note that many of the credit scores sold to lenders are not offered for sale to consumers.

    The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act requires the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to “conduct a study on the nature, range, and size of variations between the credit scores sold to creditors and those sold to consumers by consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) that compile and maintain files on consumers on a nationwide basis,… and whether such variations disadvantage consumers.” Consumers can purchase scores from the CRAs in several ways. They can purchase scores when they request copies of their credit reports directly from the CRAs, or with their annual free credit file disclosure available through annualcreditreport.com. The CRAs or their marketing partners also sell scores as part of “credit monitoring” or “identify theft” products.

    When a consumer purchases a score from a CRA, it is likely that the credit score that the consumer receives will not be the same score as that purchased and used by a lender to whom the consumer applies for a loan. This could occur if the score the consumer purchased is an educational score that is not used by lenders, but differences between the score a consumer buys and the score a lender buys can occur for other reasons as well. Since so many scores are in use in the marketplace, it could also be the case that the particular lender to which the consumer applies uses a different scoring model than the one purchased by the consumer, or that the CRA from which the consumer obtains a score is not the same CRA that the lender uses to obtain scores, or that the underlying data in the consumer’s credit report changes significantly between the time the consumer purchases a score and the time the lender obtains a score for that consumer. It is also possible that a consumer and a lender could access different reports from the CRA, if they were to use different identifying information about the consumer. Any of these differences could lead to differences between the credit score a consumer sees and the credit score a lender uses to assess that consumer.

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