Source: American Bar Association
With six Blawg 100 notches on our belt, we have developed a bit of a sixth sense when it comes to knowing what it takes to have a successful blog. We know that bloggers who are passionate about their chosen subjects are more likely to have lively, engaging blogs we enjoy going back to day after day, year after year.
Success is relative, of course. Some law bloggers measure success by the business they develop. Others by the networks they’re creating. And still others get satisfaction from how blogging gives them a voice, a creative outlet.
This list includes blogs that can measure success in a number of different ways. And for the first time, we’re tipping our hats to the cream of the law-blogging crop. We’d like to introduce our inaugural Blawg 100 Hall of Fame, featuring law blogs we can’t imagine not making our favorites list each year.
New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office
NONPROLIFERATION AND DISARMAMENT FUND
HIV Infections Attributed to Male-to-Male Sexual Contact — Metropolitan Statistical Areas, United States and P uerto Rico, 2010
Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (CDC)
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections attributed to male-to-male sexual contact comprised 64% of the estimated new HIV infections in the United States in 2009 (1). Assessing the geographic distribution of HIV infection by transmission category can help public health programs target prevention resources to men who have sex with men (MSM) in areas where HIV infection from male-to-male sexual contact is most frequent. In 2004, CDC published data on acquired immunodeficiency syndrome diagnoses among MSM and others by metropolitan statistical area (MSA) (2). To examine geographic differences in the prevalence of HIV infection from male-to-male sexual contact among persons aged ≥13 years in the United States and Puerto Rico, CDC estimated the number of HIV infections in persons newly diagnosed in 2010 and analyzed them by transmission category and location. Results indicated that HIV infections attributed to male-to-male sexual contact made up the largest percentage of HIV infections in MSAs (62.1%), smaller metropolitan areas (56.1%), and nonmetropolitan areas (53.7%). Of the 28,851 infections attributed to male-to-male sexual contact, 23,559 (81.7%) were in MSAs, and 11,410 (48.4%) of those infections were in seven MSAs that represented 31.7% (53,169,004 of 167,919,694) of the overall population aged ≥13 years in the MSAs that were assessed. These data support planning for targeted interventions to prevent HIV acquisition and transmission by male-to-male sexual contact among MSM, particularly in those areas most affected.
Source: Harvard University
From Executive Summary (PDF):
Subsidies for retirement savings are among the largest tax expenditures in the United States and other developed economies. This fiscal year, the estimated cash-flow expenditure on retirement savings accounts such as 401(k)’s and IRA’s exceeded $100 billion in the U.S. (JCT 2012). The goal of these subsidies is to increase national saving and income security in retirement. Our study evaluates whether these subsidies accomplish this goal. Do tax subsidies encourage families to save more or do they induce them to shift money they would have saved anyway into tax-advantaged retirement accounts, with no net increase in savings?
Despite extensive research over the past three decades, we do not have a conclusive answer to this question because of a lack of high quality data on household wealth in the U.S. (Bernheim 2002). We therefore turn to data from Denmark, where we obtain 45 million observations on household balance sheets from administrative tax records. The Danish data provide useful insights for policy in the U.S. for two reasons. First, the structure of retirement savings plans in Denmark is broadly similar to the U.S. Second, savings decisions within retirement accounts – where good data are available in the U.S. – are similar across the two countries. Hence, we expect savings decisions outside retirement accounts – where the Danish data are of much higher quality – to be similar as well.
We begin by studying a reform in 1999 that sharply reduced the tax subsidy for contributing to retirement accounts for those in the top income tax bracket in Denmark. We find that the subsidy change had small impacts on total savings for two reasons. First, only 15% of individuals reduced retirement savings when the subsidy was reduced; the remaining 85% of individuals did not change their pension contributions at all. Second, the 15% who reduce pension contributions shifted nearly all the money they withdrew from pensions to other non-retirement accounts. Combining these two effects, we estimate that each $1 of government tax expenditure on retirement savings raises total national saving by 1 cent.
If subsidies have little impact on retirement saving, are there other policies that are more effective? Recent studies have shown that “nudges” such as automatic enrollment or defaults – which have no fiscal cost to the government – increase pension contributions (e.g., Madrian and Shea 2001, Thaler and Sunstein 2008). Again, however, it is unclear whether automatic contributions raise total savings or just induce individuals to save more in pensions while running down their balances in non-retirement accounts, leaving total saving unchanged.
We study the impacts of automatic contributions on total savings using two quasi-experimental approaches. First, we track individuals’ savings rates when they switch to jobs with higher or lower employer retirement contributions. These contributions are automatic in that they require no active choices by individuals. We find that increases in employer contributions substantially increase total savings: most individuals do not change their savings in non-retirement accounts at all when their employers contribute more to their pensions. Second, we study the impacts of a mandatory government savings plan that required everyone to automatically contribute 1% of their earnings to a retirement savings account from 1998-2003. Again, we find that this policy raised total pension savings and did not reduce savings in other accounts.
Why are automatic contributions so much more effective at raising savings than price subsidies? We find that there are two types of people in the economy: 15% are “active” savers who plan for retirement and respond to incentives, while 85% are “passive” savers who are not focused on their retirement savings and do not pay attention to policy changes. Price subsidies induce active savers to shift assets across accounts but have no impact on passive savers’ behavior. In contrast, automatic contributions raise the savings of passive savers. Passive savers tend to be less wealthy and financially prepared than active savers. As a result, automatic contributions not only have larger effects on aggregate savings than price subsidies, but also do more to increase the savings rates of those who are least prepared for retirement.
In sum, the findings of our study call into question whether tax subsidies are the most effective policy to increase retirement savings. Automatic enrollment or default policies that nudge individuals to save more could have larger impacts on national saving at lower fiscal cost.
The Milliman Public Pension Funding Study independently measures the aggregate funded status of the 100 largest U.S. public pension plans using basic actuarial principles and reported plan liabilities and assets. The aggregate accrued liability information provided has been determined on a uniform basis with respect to the interest rate assumption across all of the plans in the study. This uniform approach allows for an accurate picture of the overall funded status of these 100 pension plans based on an independent application of Actuarial Standards Board (ASB) standards of practice, actual investment portfolios, and current capital market assumptions. We are not aware of any other study that has taken this approach and we feel this is an important story that needs to be told.
During the past year, the 100 largest U.S. public pension plans (as measured by accrued liability) reported assets of $2.705 trillion and accrued liabilities of $3.600 trillion, for an aggregate underfunding of $0.895 trillion and an aggregate funded ratio of 75.1%. The asset values the plans use for reporting purposes reflect asset smoothing techniques, which are designed to minimize fluctuations in contribution amounts but may deviate significantly from market value. The liabilities the plans report may not reflect current views on future investment return levels. Using current market values of assets and current views on investment returns, these plans have assets of $2.513 trillion and accrued liabilities of $3.706 trillion, resulting in aggregate underfunding of $1.193 trillion and an aggregate funded ratio of 67.8%.
New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office
AIR PASSENGER SCREENING
GUANTANAMO BAY DETAINEES
Source: PLoS ONE
People tend to prefer a smaller immediate reward to a larger but delayed reward. Although this discounting of future rewards is often associated with impulsivity, it is not necessarily irrational. Instead it has been suggested that it reflects the decision maker’s greater interest in the ‘me now’ than the ‘me in 10 years’, such that the concern for our future self is about the same as for someone else who is close to us.
To investigate this we used a delay-discounting task to compare discount functions for choices that people would make for themselves against decisions that they think that other people should make, e.g. to accept $500 now or $1000 next week. The psychological distance of the hypothetical beneficiaries was manipulated in terms of the genetic coefficient of relatedness ranging from zero (e.g. a stranger, or unrelated close friend), .125 (e.g. a cousin), .25 (e.g. a nephew or niece), to .5 (parent or sibling).
The observed discount functions were steeper (i.e. more impulsive) for choices in which the decision-maker was the beneficiary than for all other beneficiaries. Impulsiveness of decisions declined systematically with the distance of the beneficiary from the decision-maker. The data are discussed with reference to the implusivity and interpersonal empathy gaps in decision-making.
See: Take the Money: Why We Make Better Financial Decisions for Strangers Than Family (Science Daily)
Source: PLoS ONE
Prevention of obesity should start as early as possible after birth. We aimed to build clinically useful equations estimating the risk of later obesity in newborns, as a first step towards focused early prevention against the global obesity epidemic.
We analyzed the lifetime Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986 (NFBC1986) (N = 4,032) to draw predictive equations for childhood and adolescent obesity from traditional risk factors (parental BMI, birth weight, maternal gestational weight gain, behaviour and social indicators), and a genetic score built from 39 BMI/obesity-associated polymorphisms. We performed validation analyses in a retrospective cohort of 1,503 Italian children and in a prospective cohort of 1,032 U.S. children.
In the NFBC1986, the cumulative accuracy of traditional risk factors predicting childhood obesity, adolescent obesity, and childhood obesity persistent into adolescence was good: AUROC = 0·78[0·74–0.82], 0·75[0·71–0·79] and 0·85[0·80–0·90] respectively (all p<0·001). Adding the genetic score produced discrimination improvements ≤1%. The NFBC1986 equation for childhood obesity remained acceptably accurate when applied to the Italian and the U.S. cohort (AUROC = 0·70[0·63–0·77] and 0·73[0·67–0·80] respectively) and the two additional equations for childhood obesity newly drawn from the Italian and the U.S. datasets showed good accuracy in respective cohorts (AUROC = 0·74[0·69–0·79] and 0·79[0·73–0·84]) (all p<0·001). The three equations for childhood obesity were converted into simple Excel risk calculators for potential clinical use.
This study provides the first example of handy tools for predicting childhood obesity in newborns by means of easily recorded information, while it shows that currently known genetic variants have very little usefulness for such prediction.
Source: RAND Corporation
- Providers drive health care spending through the guidance they provide to patients about needed diagnostic tests, treatments, hospitalizations, and referrals, as well as through their own fees.
- Providers can dramatically improve American health care by focusing on "value" instead of "volume," eliminating wasteful and inappropriate care, applying the best available evidence to their practices, and enhancing patient safety.
- Strengthening primary care promises to be a good investment, but the existing pipeline for primary care physicians is insufficient to meet future demand.
Vocal Imitation in Parrots Allows Addressing of Specific Individuals in a Dynamic Communication Network
Source: PLoS ONE
Parrots in captivity are known for their ability to vocally imitate humans and recently it has been shown that wild-living orange-fronted conures are able to immediately imitate other individuals’ contact calls. The function of this exceptional ability to imitate remains unclear. However, orange–fronted conures live in fission-fusion flocks where they encounter many different individuals every day, and it is possible that their vocal imitation ability is a flexible means to address a specific individual within a flock. We tested this via playback to short-term captive wild conures. Test birds were placed together in pairs in outdoor aviaries to form simple flocks. To simulate imitation of a specific individual these pairs received playback of contact calls that primarily imitate one of the two birds. Overall, individuals that received simulated vocal imitations of its calls responded more frequently and faster than the other individual. This suggests that orange-fronted conures can use imitations of contact calls to address specific individuals of a flock. In the discussion we argue that the fission-fusion flock dynamics of many parrot species has been an important factor in evolving conures’ and other parrots’ exceptional ability to imitate.
See: Parrots imitate individuals when addressing them (EurekAlert!)
Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Combined 2008 to 2010 data indicate that 26.6 percent of persons aged 12 to 20 drank alcohol in the past month
- Rates of underage past month alcohol use were among the lowest in Utah (14.3 percent) and among the highest in Vermont (37.0 percent)
- Approximately 8.7 percent of past month drinkers aged 12 to 20 purchased their own alcohol the last time they drank
- The rates of past month drinkers aged 12 to 20 buying their own alcohol were among the lowest in New Mexico (2.5 percent), Idaho (2.6 percent), and Oregon (2.6 percent), and among the highest in New York (15.0 percent)
Source: Migration Policy Institute
The number of temporary admissions of nonimmigrants to the United States — tourists, international students, diplomats, or temporary workers — has reached 53.1 million admissions in 2011. The growth, due in part to more accurate border counts, is largely spurred by a surge in the number of business travelers and tourists — a trend that is expected to continue.
Recent presidential initiatives are likely to further increase the number of nonimmigrant admissions in the coming years, with the advent of regulation changes designed to speed the issuance of visas for the growing numbers of international travelers from China and Brazil.
This updated Spotlight examines the admission statistics of foreign nationals who came to the United States on temporary (nonimmigrant) visas in 2011 and who had to complete an I-94 arrival/departure form (more about the I-94 form on the US Customs and Border Protection website.
Source: RAND Corporation
- By law, the Department of Defense (DoD) must report adverse information about general or flag officers nominated for promotion, assignment, or retirement.
- RAND reviewed DoD and service procedures and identified areas where practice differs from what is required and where current practice or supporting data may be inadequate.
- RAND recommended corrective actions, including a dialog between Congress and DoD to recognize differences in perspective.
Source: RAND Corporation
Policymakers need to understand whether military spouses succeed at finding jobs and how veterans fare economically after they leave military service. But these groups differ from the civilian population in important ways, making comparisons difficult. Researchers must adjust comparisons to account for demographic differences across these populations to provide useful information to policymakers. Using data from the American Community Survey, the authors take a snapshot of unemployment among post-9/11 veterans and military spouses. Adjusting for demographic differences, they find that unemployment rates among these veterans are above those of their civilian counterparts but not dramatically so. For military spouses, they observe that unemployment rates are appreciably above those of comparable civilians but below other published estimates of the unemployment rate for this population. They determine that veterans and military spouses may face important employment obstacles deserving of policymakers’ attention, but the situation may not be as extreme as some have suggested.
Source: Congressional Budget Office
The unemployment insurance (UI) system is a partnership between the federal government and state governments that provides a temporary weekly benefit to qualified workers who lose their job and are seeking work. The amount of that benefit is based in part on a worker’s past earnings. CBO estimates that UI benefits totaled $94 billion in fiscal year 2012 (when the unemployment rate was 8.3 percent, on average), a substantial increase over the $33 billion paid out in fiscal year 2007 (when the unemployment rate was 4.5 percent, on average).
Far more workers were laid off in 2008 and 2009 than in 2006 and 2007. The number of workers who lost their job and started receiving UI benefits peaked at 14.4 million in 2009, whereas an average of roughly 8 million laid-off workers started receiving benefits in each fiscal year from 2004 to 2007. Having so many more workers eligible for unemployment benefits would have substantially increased the number of recipients in the absence of any change in UI policies, but federal policies also were changed in ways that further expanded the number of UI recipients.
In particular, the periods for which eligible workers can receive UI benefits have been repeatedly extended during the recent recession and its aftermath. Regular UI benefits generally last up to 26 weeks. Additional weeks of benefits have been provided through the creation of the temporary Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program in 2008 and through modifications to the extended benefits (EB) program. The EUC program currently provides up to 47 weeks of additional benefits (depending on a state’s unemployment rate) after regular UI benefits have been exhausted. The EB program provides up to 20 weeks of benefits to certain eligible workers who have exhausted their EUC benefits (temporary changes in law have made it easier for states to qualify to provide extended benefits and have made the funding for the EB program entirely federal).
The benefits the three programs provide—at a total cost over the past five years of roughly $520 billion—have allowed households to better maintain their consumption while household members are unemployed. Under current law, the temporary benefits that have been provided in recent years are set to expire at the end of December 2012.
Source: Federal Reserve Board
Economic activity expanded at a measured pace in recent weeks, according to reports from contacts in the twelve Federal Reserve Districts. Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco grew at a modest pace, while St. Louis and Minneapolis indicated a somewhat stronger increase in activity. In contrast, Boston reported a slower rate of growth. Weaker conditions in New York were attributed to widespread disruptions at the end of October and into November caused by Hurricane Sandy. Philadelphia reported general weakness that was exacerbated by the hurricane. However, in the Boston and Richmond Districts, the storm’s effects were mostly limited. Contacts in a number of Districts expressed concern and uncertainty about the federal budget, especially the fiscal cliff.
Among key sectors, consumer spending grew at a moderate pace in most Districts, while manufacturing weakened, on balance. Seven of the twelve Districts reported either slowing or outright contraction in manufacturing, and two others gave mixed reports. In some cases, such as high-tech equipment and steel production, an industry slowed in one District while strengthening in another. Several Districts reported slight gains in residential and commercial real estate. Travel and tourism varied by District; for example, Minneapolis contacts marked levels of activity above a year ago, and tourism fell in the Kansas City District. Non-financial services also differed among Districts, with Philadelphia businesses indicating softer demand, while firms in other Districts reported pockets of robust demand for professional, scientific, and technical services. In transportation, reports were, again, mixed. In addition, hurricane disruptions slowed freight shipments in some Districts, while simultaneously boosting demand for shipments of emergency supplies. In banking and financial services, higher demand for home mortgage loans and auto loans increased consumer lending in some Districts, although small business loan demand was generally described as weaker to only moderately higher. Credit quality improved on net.
New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office
HEALTH CARE FRAUD
Types of Providers Involved in Medicare Cases, and CMS Efforts to Reduce Fraud
GAO-13-213T, Nov 28, 2012
COMBATING NUCLEAR SMUGGLING
GAO-13-37, Oct 31, 2012
GAO-13-72, Oct 29, 2012