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Archive for October, 2012

Paying for What Was Free: Lessons from the New York Times Paywall

October 31, 2012 Comments off

Paying for What Was Free: Lessons from the New York Times Paywall

Source: Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking

In a national online longitudinal survey, participants reported their attitudes and behaviors in response to the recently implemented metered paywall by the New York Times. Previously free online content now requires a digital subscription to access beyond a small free monthly allotment. Participants were surveyed shortly after the paywall was announced and again 11 weeks after it was implemented to understand how they would react and adapt to this change. Most readers planned not to pay and ultimately did not. Instead, they devalued the newspaper, visited its Web site less frequently, and used loopholes, particularly those who thought the paywall would lead to inequality. Results of an experimental justification manipulation revealed that framing the paywall in terms of financial necessity moderately increased support and willingness to pay. Framing the paywall in terms of a profit motive proved to be a noncompelling justification, sharply decreasing both support and willingness to pay. Results suggest that people react negatively to paying for previously free content, but change can be facilitated with compelling justifications that emphasize fairness.

See: For New York Times readers, fairness matters when it comes to paying for content (EurekAlert!)

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U.S. Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

October 31, 2012 Comments off

U.S. Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Source: Brookings Institution

Significant congressional efforts to address climate change have failed, and the issue has received almost no attention on the 2012 campaign trail. In spite of these facts, federal regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and mitigate climate change are real and growing in importance.

Without the benefit of new legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized rules under the Clean Air Act affecting motor vehicle fuel efficiency and emissions from power plants. After surviving a number of legal challenges, these rules will remain in place and grow in importance in coming years. In this research note, Philip Wallach surveys the development of U.S. climate change policy and assesses where GHG regulation can and should go from here.

Wallach provides a detailed analysis of how the Clean Air Act was reinterpreted to apply to GHG emissions, examining the statute’s legislative history and the environmentalist lawsuit brought to force its application to GHG emissions, which culminated in the Supreme Court ruling that the agency must take action. He then examines the policies that have resulted, including ambitious new fuel economy standards for cars and trucks and stringent emission requirements for all new power plants, as well as not-yet-promulgated rules that the statute seems to require.

He explains why the Clean Air Act is an awkward tool for addressing the problem of climate change, arguing that a straightforward application of the Act’s requirements would require extremely burdensome regulations producing little social benefit.

Because of these difficulties, Wallach argues that future lawmakers should look for opportunities to clean up this increasingly messy policy area—emphasizing that congressional inaction has now become a recipe for wasteful regulation. He highlights one possibility that should be especially attractive in the current fiscally-challenged political moment: a grand bargain instituting a carbon tax in exchange for payroll or income tax reduction coupled with a narrowing of EPA’s mandate to regulate GHG emissions.

New From the GAO

October 31, 2012 Comments off

New GAO Reports

Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Medicare: Higher Use of Advanced Imaging Services by Providers Who Self-Refer Costing Medicare Millions. GAO-12-966, September 28.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-966
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/650/648989.pdf

2. Food Safety: FDA Can Better Oversee Food Imports by Assessing and Leveraging Other Countries’ Oversight Resources. GAO-12-933, September 28.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-933
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/650/649011.pdf

3. Department of Homeland Security: Taking Further Action to Better Determine Causes of Morale Problems Would Assist in Targeting Action Plans. GAO-12-940, September 28.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-940
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/650/648996.pdf

Hoboken Lonely-Hearts Leader of Swinging-Single Cities

October 31, 2012 Comments off

Hoboken Lonely-Hearts Leader of Swinging-Single Cities

Source: Bloomberg

Hoboken, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, tops Bloomberg’s Swinging Singles ranking of large U.S. cities with wealthy one-person households.

In a municipality where 25 percent of workers are in real estate, insurance or finance, more than half of Hoboken’s population live alone, twice the U.S. average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Single men ages 15-64 have median income of $94,500, 61 percent above the national level. Women in that category earn $77,600 on average, 2.5 times the norm.

Arlington, Virginia, on the Metro rail line to Washington, ranked second among cities of at least 50,000 where the richest men and women live alone. Other Swinging Singles cities include Redmond, Washington, the home of Microsoft Corp. (MSFT); Newton, Massachusetts; Bowie, Maryland; Bolingbrook, Illinois; and White Plains, New York.

S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine (SAMe): An Introduction

October 31, 2012 Comments off

S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine (SAMe): An Introduction

Source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

S-Adenosyl-L-methionine (also called S-adenosyl methionine, S-adenosylmethionine, SAMe, or SAM-e in the United States or ademetionine in Europe, and also often abbreviated as SAM and AdoMet) is a chemical that is found naturally in the body. SAMe is sold in the United States as a dietary supplement. This fact sheet provides basic information about SAMe, summarizes scientific research on safety and effectiveness, and suggests sources for additional information.

Diminishing Funding and Rising Expectations: Trends and Challenges for Public Research Universities

October 31, 2012 Comments off

Diminishing Funding and Rising Expectations: Trends and Challenges for Public Research Universities

Source: National Science Foundation

As part of our mandate from Congress, the National Science Board (Board) supervises the collection of a very broad set of policy-neutral, quantitative information about U.S. science, engineering, and technology, and publishes the data and trends biennially in our Science and Engineering Indicators (Indicators) report. The data in Indicators reveal some trends that raise important policy concerns that the Board then conveys to the President, Congress, and the public in the form of a “companion” policy statement to the Indicators report.

In the 2012 edition of Indicators, the Board reported a substantial decline over the last decade in per student state appropriations at the Nation’s major public research universities. This companion report to Indicators, Diminishing Funding and Rising Expectations: Trends and Challenges for Public Research Universities, highlights the importance of these universities to state and national economies, rising public expectations for university education and research, and the challenges posed by recent trends in enrollment, revenue, and expenditures.

The Nation’s public research universities play a vital role in preparing the next generation of innovators—educating and training a large number of science and engineering students at the undergraduate and graduate levels while maintaining relative affordability. They perform over half of all academic research and development, are contributors to state and local economies, and provide numerous public services. In the wake of increasing enrollment and costs and declining per student state appropriations, the Board is concerned with the continued ability of these institutions to provide affordable, quality education and training to a broad range of students, conduct the basic science and engineering research that leads to innovations, and perform their public service missions.

In future editions of Indicators, the Board intends to expand the treatment of higher education institutions while providing greater depth of analysis specific to public research universities. The 2014 edition of Indicators will include consistent, policy-neutral information that policy-makers can use in considering whether these universities can meet local, state, and national demand for the type of skilled S&E workers and transformative research necessary to fuel economic growth and to address societal challenges.

Beyond Guns and God: Understanding the Complexities of the White Working Class in America

October 31, 2012 Comments off

Beyond Guns and God: Understanding the Complexities of the White Working Class in America (PDF)

Source: Public Religion Research Institute

From press release:

Less than two months before Americans go to the polls to elect their president, a new national survey released today upends commonly held-beliefs about white working-class Americans. The report, “Beyond God and Guns: Understanding the Complexities of the White Working Class in America,” highlights the significant divides among white working-class Americans along the lines of region, religion, gender, and age.

“Both the right and the left operate with stereotypes about white working-class Americans,” noted Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the survey. “The left has argued that white working-class Americans vote entirely on the basis of religion and traditional values and ignore their own economic interests, while more recently the right has argued that their problems are rooted in a lack of religious engagement and a weak work ethic. Neither side is right.”

The survey dispels five commonly held myths about the white working class. Contrary to popular belief, white working-class Americans do not have a strong affinity with the Tea Party movement, nor are they politically animated by culture wars issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. Rather, white working-class Americans are no more likely than white college-educated Americans to say they consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement (13 percent vs. 10 percent). And only 1-in-20 white working-class Americans say that either abortion (3 percent) or same-sex marriage (2 percent) is the most important issue to their vote.

The survey also demonstrates that white working-class Americans have not abandoned traditional religiosity and a strong work ethic, and shows that white working-class Americans do not blindly vote against their economic interests. Similarly, white working-class Americans do not embrace unfettered free market capitalism, but rather display a strong strain of economic populism.

Breaking Down Silos Between Economic Development and Public Transportation: An Evaluation of Four States’ Mode st Efforts In Making Job Subsidies Location-Efficient

October 31, 2012 Comments off

Breaking Down Silos Between Economic Development and Public Transportation: An Evaluation of Four States’ Modest Efforts In Making Job Subsidies Location-Efficient (PDF)

Source: Good Jobs First

Since publishing Another Way Sprawl Happens in 2000 and Missing the Bus in 2003, Good Jobs First has repeatedly documented the pro-sprawl bias of economic development subsidies and advocated for better geographic targeting of workplaces to achieve location efficiency. That is, taxpayer investments in economic development and public transportation should be geographically aligned to address the problems of urban sprawl, forced auto dependency and jobs-housing spatial mismatch.

Good Jobs First has issued six studies mapping more than 5,000 economic development subsidy deals in 13 metro areas. Five of the reports explored transit location efficiency as a goal of economic development subsidy targeting, and two are of special note here. Our 2003 study, Missing the Bus: How States Fail to Connect Economic Development with Public Transit summarized the results of a 50-state survey in which we failed to identify even a single state economic development program that directly connected jobs with transit. By 2006, when we published The Geography of Incentives: Economic Development and Land Use in 2 Michigan, we had identified two states that partially aligned smart growth goals with economic development subsidies: California and Maryland. That same year, Illinois passed the state’s landmark Business Location Efficiency Incentive Act. In 2008, New Jersey enacted a major tax credit program available only to businesses moving within a half mile of major rail transit centers. (Since that time, we have not learned of any other new state location efficiency policies.)

Unfortunately, a review of the status of these small steps finds that they have not been adequate to popularize the concept. This report is an update on the use of location efficiency policies in Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and California. It describes how some programs have faltered, lost their way, or were inadequately designed to effect lasting changes in policy. In part, their collective failure in breaking down the policy silos of transit and economic development is a result of weak design. None of the four policies reviewed in this document reform existing job subsidies to restrict funds to location-efficient development projects. Some are structured to give preference to location-efficient applicants. Others provide bonuses to reward location-efficient decisions. In the case of New Jersey, an entire new location-efficient tax credit was enacted atop the state’s already generous arsenal of economic development programs. Two of the four programs do not even specifically cite transit access as a goal.

The result of these weak structures is in most cases a policy tool ineffectively designed to actually change land use and transportation patterns or economic development location decisions. Over the past few years, these programs have either been little used or deregulated to the extent that they can no longer be said to serve the goal of location efficiency. In all four cases, no evaluation of results on transit access, commuter choice or behavior, or land use pattern has ever been conducted. But given our findings here about how poorly the programs have been designed and/or executed, we doubt a performance audit would find useful impact.

Definitions and factors associated with subthreshold depressive conditions: a systematic review

October 30, 2012 Comments off

Definitions and factors associated with subthreshold depressive conditions: a systematic review
Source: BMC Psychiatry

Background
Subthreshold depressive disorders (minor and subthrehold depression) have been defined in a wide range of forms, varying on the number of symptoms and duration required. Disability associated with these conditions has also been reported. Our aim was to review the different definitions and to determine factors associated with these conditions in order to clarify the nosological implications of these disorders.

Methods
A Medline search was conducted of the published literature between January 2011 and September 2011. Bibliographies of the retrieved papers were also analysed.

Results
There is a wide heterogeneity in the definition and diagnostic criteria of minor and subthreshold depression. Minor depression was defined according to DSM-IV criteria. Regarding subthreshold depression, also called subclinical depression or subsyndromal symptomatic depression, between 2 and 5 depressive symptoms were required for the diagnosis, and a minimum duration of 2 weeks. Significant impairment associated with subthreshold depressive conditions, as well as comorbidity with other mental disorders, has been described.

Conclusions
Depression as a disorder is better explained as a spectrum rather than as a collection of discrete categories. Minor and subthreshold depression are common conditions and patients falling below the diagnostic threshold experience significant difficulties in functioning and a negative impact on their quality of life. Current diagnostic systems need to reexamine the thresholds for depressive disorders and distinguish them from ordinary feelings of sadness.

Latest Crime Stats: Annual Crime in the U.S. Report Released

October 30, 2012 Comments off

Latest Crime Stats: Annual Crime in the U.S. Report Released
Source: FBI

According to our just-released Crime in the United States, 2011 report, the estimated number of violent crimes reported to law enforcement (1,203,564) decreased for the fifth year in a row, while the estimated number of property crimes reported to law enforcement (9,063,173) decreased for the ninth year in a row.

Simplifying Tax Incentives and Aid for College: Progress and Prospects

October 30, 2012 Comments off

Simplifying Tax Incentives and Aid for College: Progress and Prospects (PDF)
Source: National Bureau of Economic Research

The application for federal student aid is longer than the tax returns filled out by the majority of US households. Research suggests that complexity in the aid process undermines its e ectiveness in inducing more students into college. In 2008, an article in this journal showed that most of the data items in the aid application did not a ect the distribution of aid, and that the much shorter set of variables available in IRS data could be used to closely replicate the existing distribution of aid. This added momentum to a period of discussion and activity around simpli cation in Congress and the US Department of Education. In this article, we provide a ve-year retrospective of what’s changed in the aid application process, what hasn’t, and the possibilities for future reform. While there has been some streamlining in the process of applying for aid, it has fallen far short of its goals. Two dozen questions were removed from the aid application and a dozen added, reducing the number of questions from 127 to 116. Funding for college has also been complicated by the growth of a parallel system for aid: the tax system. A massive expansion in federal tax incentives for college, in particular the American Opportunity Tax Credit, has led to millions of households completing paperwork for both the IRS and the US Department of Education in order to qualify for college funding.

Mortality and Suicide Risk in Treatment-Resistant Depression: An Observational Study of the Long-Term Impact of Intervention

October 30, 2012 Comments off

Mortality and Suicide Risk in Treatment-Resistant Depression: An Observational Study of the Long-Term Impact of Intervention
Source: PLoS ONE

Major depressive disorder is a common global disease that causes a significant societal burden. Most interventional studies of depression provide a limited assessment of the interventions on mortality and suicide risks. This study utilizes data from an observational registry of patients with major depressive disorder to determine the impact of intervention (vagus nerve stimulation or standard pharmacological/non-pharmacological therapy) and a latent factor, patient trajectory toward response, on mortality, suicide and suicidal ideation. A total of 636 patients were available for an intent-to-treat analysis of all-cause mortality, suicide and suicidal ideation. Patients treated with vagus nerve stimulation in addition to standard therapies experienced lower, but not statistically significant, all-cause mortality (vagus nerve stimulation 4.93 per 1,000 person-years vs. 10.02 per 1,000 patient years for treatment as usual) and suicide rates (vagus nerve stimulation 0.88 per 1,000 person-years vs. 1.61 per 1,000 patient years for treatment as usual). Treatment with vagus nerve stimulation produced a statistically lower relative risk of suicidal ideation 0.80, 95% confidence interval (0.68,0.95). Further, patients that responded to either treatment saw a 51% reduction in relative risk of suicidal behavior; relative risk and 95% confidence interval of 0.49 (0.41,0.58). In summary, we find that treatment with adjunctive vagus nerve stimulation can potentially lower the risk of all-cause mortality, suicide and suicide attempts.

General health status of residents nearby high voltage substations in Tehran, Iran

October 30, 2012 Comments off

General health status of residents nearby high voltage substations in Tehran, Iran (PDF)
Source: Advances in Environmental Biology

Objective and background:
Modern styles of living have caused human beings to expose various chemical and physical factors which can cause adverse effects on the health and welfare of individuals in different levels. This study is aimed to assess general health status of residents nearby high voltage substations in Tehran in 2011.

Materials and Methods:
This is a descriptive and cross-sectional study which was performed on 400 randomly selected residents over 18-year-old nearby high voltagesubstations. Electric and magnetic fields adjacent to these substations were measured by Holaday HI 3604 Electromagnetic Meter and general health status of residents in the vicinity of mentioned substations were evaluated using a verified questionnaire.

Findings:
Mean of measured electric fields’ strengthand magnetic flux density around the 400 KV high voltage substation lines was 3610V/m and 275 mG, respectively, and it was higher than other electric substations. Furthermore, results of general health status of residents nearby high voltage substations showed that; the highest frequency percentage was attributed to mental disorders. Physical, anxiety and depression disorders were in the second grade, though. On the other hand, the lowest frequency percentage was related to social dysfunction.

Conclusion:
Most of the studied population (64.8%) was suspected to have mental disorders. Considering the effects of other factors except electromagnetic waves on the general health of individuals, therefore, more and valuable studies are needed in this regard.

Health surveillance of deployed military personnel occasionally leads to unexpected findings

October 30, 2012 Comments off

Health surveillance of deployed military personnel occasionally leads to unexpected findings

Source: BMC Medicine

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be caused by life threatening illness, such as cancer and coronary events. The study by Forbes et al. made the unexpected finding that military personnel evacuation with medical illness have similar rates of PTSD to those evacuated with combat injuries. It may be that the illness acts as a nonspecific stressor that interacts with combat exposures to increase the risk of PTSD. Conversely, the inflammatory consequence of systemic illness may augment the effects to traumatic stress and facilitate the immunological abnormalities that are now being associated with PTSD and depression. The impact of the stress on cytokine systems and their role in the onset of PTSD demands further investigation. Military personnel evacuated due to physical illness require similar screening and monitoring for the risk of PTSD to those injured who are already known to be at high risk. Please see related article: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-244X/12/178.

Redesigning State Economic Development Agencies

October 30, 2012 Comments off

Redesigning State Economic Development Agencies (PDF)

Source: National Governors Association

Policies to boost innovation, competitiveness and job creation are top priorities for the nation’s governors. State economic development agencies play a large role in making and implementing those policies and, accordingly, how states will rebound from the recession that ended in 2009. State leaders seeking to lay the foundation for renewed economic prosperity should try to ensure that such agencies function as effectively and efficiently as possible, so that the economic recovery brings with it strong growth and high-paying jobs.

The fact that states are now facing daunting economic challenges makes it easier to muster broad support for transforming their economic development agencies. Governors have a unique opportunity to review the economic landscape and to propose critical changes that would not have been feasible in the past. Within the past two years, at least 12 states have created new entities focused on economic development or have consolidated existing agencies to streamline their approach to economic development.

New Markey Report Reveals Before Current Outbreak At Least 23 Deaths, 86 Serious Illnesses, Injuries Associated with Compounding Pharmacy Practices

October 30, 2012 Comments off

New Markey Report Reveals Before Current Outbreak At Least 23 Deaths, 86 Serious Illnesses, Injuries Associated with Compounding Pharmacy Practices
Source: Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) (U.S. House of Representatives)

With the meningitis outreak death toll reaching 25 and 344 more sickened by injectable steroids manufactured at the New England Compounding Center (NECC), Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today released a new comprehensive report documenting more than a decade of violations and problems at compounding pharmacies throughout the nation. Rep. Markey’s report, “Compounding Pharmacies, Compounding Risk” describes the nature of regulatory oversight and gaps in legal authority that, even before the current meningitis outbreak, led to at least 23 deaths and 86 serious illnesses or injuries in at least 34 states. Violations at compounding facilities included compounding pharmacies selling copies of commercially-available drugs, selling drugs made using ingredients that were not Food and Drug Adminsitration (FDA)-approved or were recalled for safety or effectiveness reasons, cases where sterile facilities were visibly dirty and contamination of the drug product was known to have occurred, and either selling drug products without a valid prescription or manufacturing large quantities of drug products.

Drawn entirely from media reports, publicly-available FDA and state Boards of Pharmacy documents from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and DC, Rep. Markey’s report shows how FDA’s efforts to assure the safety of compounding pharmacies have been challenged at every juncture by some members of the compounding pharmacy sector. The report also reveals that the state Boards of Pharmacy do not typically and consistently oversee the safety of the drugs made by compounding pharmacies and do not always provide records of their enforcement activities in an easily searchable and publicly available format.

CRS — Venezuela: Issues for Congress

October 29, 2012 Comments off

Venezuela: Issues for Congress (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Under the rule of populist President Hugo Chávez, first elected in 1998, Venezuela has undergone enormous political changes, with a new constitution and unicameral legislature, and even a new name for the country, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Human rights organizations have expressed concerns about the deterioration of democratic institutions and threats to freedom of expression under the Chávez government. President Chávez won reelection to another six-year term on October 7, 2012, by a margin of 11%, capturing about 55% of the vote compared to 44% for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. While Chávez’s continued popularity and use of state resources helped his reelection, high rates of crime, inflation, and other economic problems eroded his support somewhat as did an energetic campaign run by Capriles. Looking ahead, Venezuela is schedule to hold state elections on December 16, 2012. Henrique Capriles will run for reelection as governor of the state of Miranda against former Vice President Elías Jaua. At this juncture, Chávez appears to have bounced back from two bouts of an undisclosed form of cancer, although his health status raises questions about Venezuela’s political future.

U.S. Policy

The United States traditionally has had close relations with Venezuela, a major supplier of foreign oil, but there has been friction and tensions in relations under the Chávez government. Over the years, U.S. officials have expressed concerns about human rights, Venezuela’s military arms purchases, its relations with Cuba and Iran, and its efforts to export its brand of populism to other Latin American countries. Declining cooperation on anti-drug and anti-terrorism efforts has been a major concern. The United States has imposed sanctions: on several Venezuelan government and military officials for allegedly helping the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) with drug and weapons trafficking; on three Venezuelan companies for providing support to Iran; and on several Venezuelan individuals for providing support to Hezbollah. Despite tensions in relations, the Obama Administration remains committed to seeking constructive engagement with Venezuela, focusing on such areas as anti-drug and counter-terrorism efforts. In the aftermath of President Chávez’s reelection, the White House, while acknowledging differences with President Chávez, congratulated the Venezuelan people on the high level of participation and the relatively peaceful election process.

Legislative Initiatives

As in past years, there have been concerns in the 112 th Congress regarding the state of Venezuela’s democracy and human rights situation and its deepening relations with Iran. H.R. 3783, approved by the House on September 19, 2012, would require the Administration to conduct an assessment and present “a strategy to address Iran’s growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere.” H.R. 2542, approved by the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere December 15, 2011, would withhold some assistance to the Organization of American States unless that body took action to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter regarding the status of democracy in Venezuela. H.R. 2583, approved by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs July 19, 2011, includes a provision that would prohibit aid to the government of Venezuela. Other legislative initiatives include H.Res. 247, which would call on the Secretary of State to designate Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism; and H.R. 6067, which includes a section imposing restrictions on U.S. nuclear cooperation with any country assisting the nuclear program of Venezuela or Cuba or transferring advanced conventional weapons or missiles to Venezuela or Cuba.

In action on FY2013 foreign aid appropriations, the report to the House Appropriations Committee bill, H.R. 5857 (H.Rept. 112-494, reported May 25, 2012), directs that $5 million in Economic Support Funds be provided for democracy programs in Venezuela, the same amount appropriated in FY2012, and $2 million more than requested by the Administration. In contrast, the report to the Senate Appropriations Committee bill, S. 3241 (S.Rept. 112-172, reported May 24, 2012), recommends $3 million for democracy programs in Venezuela to be administered by the National Endowment for Democracy.

CRS — Georgia’s October 2012 Legislative Election: Outcome and Implications

October 29, 2012 Comments off

Georgia’s October 2012 Legislative Election: Outcome and Implications (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Georgia’s continued sovereignty and independence and its development as a free market democracy have been significant concerns to successive Congresses and Administrations. The United States and Georgia signed a Charter on Strategic Partnership in early 2009 pledging U.S. support for these objectives, and the United States has been Georgia’s largest provider of foreign and security assistance. Most recently, elections for the 150-member Parliament of Georgia on October 1, 2012, have been viewed as substantially free and fair by most observers. Several Members of Congress and the Administration have called for a peaceful transition of political power in Georgia and have vowed continued support for Georgia’s development and independence.

In the run-up to the October 2012 election, Georgia’s Central Electoral Commission registered 16 parties and blocs and several thousand candidates to run in mixed party list and single-member constituency races. A new electoral coalition, Georgia Dream—set up by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili—posed the main opposition to President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement, which held the majority of legislative seats. A video tape of abuse in a prison released by Georgia Dream late in the campaign seemed to be a factor in the loss of voter support for the United National Movement and in the electoral victory of Georgia Dream. According to observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the election freely reflected the will of the people, although a few procedural and other problems were reported.

In the days after the election, Saakashvili, Ivanishvili, and other officials from Georgia Dream and the United National Movement have met to plan an orderly transition, including the appointment of a new cabinet. Ivanishvili has pledged that GD will continue to support Georgia’s democratization and anti-corruption efforts, and its European and Euro-Atlantic orientation.

The White House has described the election as “another milestone” in Georgia’s development as a democracy, and has called for Ivanishvili and Saakashvili to work together to ensure the country’s continued peaceful transition of power. The Administration also stated that it looked forward to strengthening the U.S.-Georgia partnership. Several Members of Congress observed the election, and several Members of the Senate issued a post-election statement commending President Saakashvili for his efforts to transform Georgia into a prosperous democracy, and pointing to the competitive and peaceful election as evidence of his success. At the same time, they raised concerns about some bickering and unrest in the wake of the election, and cautioned that the future of U.S.-Georgia relations depends on the country’s continued commitment to democratization.

Some observers have suggested that relations between the two parties in the legislature and between a Georgia Dream cabinet and the president may well be contentious in coming months, as both sides maneuver before a planned 2013 presidential election. Saakashvili is term-limited and cannot run, but the United National Movement plans to retain the presidency. Under constitutional changes, the legislature is slated to gain greater powers vis-à-vis the presidency, so a divided political situation could endure for some time. In such a case, statesmanship and a commitment to compromise and good governance are essential for Georgia’s continued democratization, these observers stress.

Country Analysis Brief: Ecuador

October 29, 2012 Comments off

Country Analysis Brief: Ecuador
Source: Energy Information Administration

By global standards, Ecuador is a relatively small oil producer and exporter. However, the oil sector plays a prominent role in the country’s politics and economic welfare. The oil sector accounts for about 50 percent of Ecuador’s export earnings and about one-third of all tax revenues. Despite being a crude oil exporter, Ecuador must still import refined petroleum products due to the lack of sufficient domestic refining capacity to meet local demand. As a result, the country does not always reap the full rewards of high world oil prices — while these high prices bring Ecuador greater export revenues, they also increase the country’s refined product import bill.

Ecuador rejoined the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 2007, after leaving the organization at the end of 1992. Ecuador is OPEC’s smallest oil producer and exporter. Despite an increasingly challenging investment environment, Ecuador has managed to slightly increase production since 2009.

Ecuador’s energy mix is largely dependent upon oil, which accounted for approximately 70 percent of the country’s total energy consumption in 2010. Hydroelectric power was the second largest energy source, though its share of Ecuador’s electricity generation — nearly two-thirds in 2008 — has declined in recent years due to droughts. Non-hydro renewables constitute another important part of Ecuador’s energy mix, almost all of which is attributable to the use of bagasse (the fibrous residue of processed sugarcane) in industry and the traditional use of biomass in rural households. However, estimates of Ecuador’s biomass consumption are inherently imprecise due to the fact that traditional fuel wood is not typically bought and sold in easily observable commercial markets.

Global Gateways: International Aviation in Metropolitan America

October 28, 2012 Comments off

Global Gateways: International Aviation in Metropolitan America

Source: Brookings Institution

As metropolitan economies expand their global reach through trade and investment, international aviation plays a pivotal role: the movement of people across national borders. An important set of metropolitan gateways have become a major source of international passengers and the key facilitators of cross-border travel to other global markets, making these places especially vital within aviation’s contribution to global trade.

However, current federal and local investment policies do not reflect the travel concentrations in these places, nor do current regulations help maximize international passenger levels. To support global trade across all metropolitan markets, federal and local policies must refocus their support on the key metropolitan gateways.

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