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Archive for December, 2012

CRS — Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies: FY2013 Appropriations

December 31, 2012 Comments off

Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies: FY2013 Appropriations (PDF)

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

The Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies appropriations bill provides funding for the planning, design, construction, alteration, and improvement of facilities used by active and reserve military components worldwide. It capitalizes military family housing and the U.S. share of the NATO Security Investment Program and finances the implementation of installation closures and realignments. It underwrites veterans benefit and health care programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), provides for the creation and maintenance of U.S. cemeteries and battlefield monuments within the United States and abroad, and supports the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Armed Forces Retirement Homes, and Arlington National Cemetery. The bill also funds advance appropriations for veterans’ medical services.

President Barack Obama submitted his request to Congress for FY2013 appropriations on February 13, 2012. For the appropriations accounts included in this bill, his request totaled $145.2 billion in new budget authority, divided into three major categories: Title I (military construction and family housing) at $11.2 billion; Title II (veterans affairs) at $135.6 billion; and Title III (related agencies) at $219.5 million. Of the total, $74.4 billion (49.9%) would be discretionary appropriations, with the remainder considered mandatory. On May 15, the House Committee on Appropriations reported a bill recommending appropriating $10.9 billion for Title I (less $235 million in funds rescinded from prior years), $135.4 billion for Title II, and $347 million for Title III.

Military construction funding amounts requested by the President and enacted by Congress have fallen off as the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) round has reached completion, although Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has requested statutory authority to carry out two new BRAC rounds in 2013 and 2015. Funding support for military family housing construction has also declined as the military departments (Army, Navy, and Air Force) continue their efforts to privatize formerly government-owned accommodations.

Funding for the VA between FY2012 and FY2013 in the Administration request, H.R. 5854, and S. 3215, reflects increases for mandatory veterans’ benefits and health care. The largest percentage increases between FY2012 and FY2013 are for mandatory benefits, primarily disability compensation and pension benefits.

The House Committee on Appropriations reported its FY2013 bill (H.R. 5854) on May 16, 2012 (H.Rept. 112-491) and passed the bill on May 31. The Senate received H.R. 5854 on June 5. The Senate Committee on Appropriations reported its bill (S. 3215) on May 22 (S.Rept. 112-168), and the bill was placed on the Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Nevertheless, an appropriation bill was not enacted before the end of FY 2012, and government operations have continued under a continuing resolution (H.J.Res. 117, enacted September 28) that will expire on March 27, 2013. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Senate has proposed an emergency supplemental appropriation that includes military construction and veterans funding.

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CRS — The Sustainability of the Federal Budget Deficit: Market Confidence and Economic Effects

December 31, 2012 Comments off

The Sustainability of the Federal Budget Deficit: Market Confidence and Economic Effects (PDF)

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

The budget deficit has exceeded $1 trillion since 2009. Combined with a shrinking economy, deficits increased the publicly held federal debt by over 30 percentage points of GDP between 2008 and 2012. Deficits of this size are not sustainable in the long run because the federal debt cannot indefinitely grow faster than output. Over time, a greater and greater share of national income would be devoted to servicing the debt, until eventually the government would be forced to finance the debt through money creation or default.

The current policy debate on the “fiscal cliff” occurring at the end of 2012 has raised the question of whether a deficit of the current magnitude is manageable and what risks it poses to the economy. Since deficit reduction could have a contractionary effect on the economy in the short run at a time when the economy is still fragile, restoring fiscal sustainability poses another set of risks that must be balanced against the risks of continuing an unsustainably large deficit. This report will evaluate sustainability issues.

Although the debt cannot persistently rise relative to GDP, it can rise for a time. It is hard to predict at what point bond holders would deem it to be unsustainable. A few other advanced economies have debt-to-GDP ratios higher than that of the United States. Some of those countries in Europe have recently seen their financing costs rise to the point that they are unable to finance their deficits solely through private markets. But Japan has the highest debt-to-GDP ratio of any advanced economy, and it has continued to be able to finance its debt at extremely low costs.

If investors on balance deemed the debt to be unsustainable, the yields and the cost of credit default swaps on Treasury securities would be expected to rise. Instead, both are currently low. This may seem surprising, given that the debt is currently growing more rapidly than output and is projected to continue to do so under current policy. The willingness of bond holders to finance the federal debt at low interest rates in light of these projections suggests that they believe that policy changes will eventually be made to place the federal debt on a sustainable path. This belief could change at any time; if it did, the experience of foreign countries suggests that the effects on the economy and financial markets could be severe. A failure to raise the debt limit or a ratings downgrade of U.S. debt by a credit rating agency are two events that have been seen as potential catalysts for a change in investor sentiment, although the downgrade when the debt nearly reached its statutory limit in 2011 did not result in higher yields.

According to standard macroeconomic theory, large deficits have temporarily boosted overall spending at a time when there is significant slack in the economy. Once private investment demand recovers, a large deficit would be expected to “crowd out” private investment spending. By accounting identity, domestic investment spending equals national saving plus net borrowing from abroad. The budget deficit has been equal to about half of private saving over the last three years. Even before the increase in the deficit, national saving was insufficient to finance domestic investment spending, and the United States was borrowing from abroad at unprecedented rates, peaking at about 6% of GDP. (Borrowing from abroad has since fallen by half, but remains relatively high.) To sustain large deficits, the economy will require some combination of higher private saving, lower investment, and higher borrowing from abroad. Some economists have argued that borrowing much more than 6% of GDP from abroad is unrealistic, and the already heavy U.S. reliance on borrowing from abroad makes the maintenance of a large budget deficit even less sustainable.

CRS — The President’s State of the Union Address: Tradition, Function, and Policy Implications

December 31, 2012 Comments off

The President’s State of the Union Address: Tradition, Function, and Policy Implications (PDF)

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

The State of the Union address is a communication between the President and Congress in which the chief executive reports on the current conditions of the United States and provides policy proposals for the upcoming legislative year. Formerly known as the “Annual Message,” the State of the Union address originates in the Constitution. As part of the system of checks and balances, Article II, Section 3, clause 1 mandates that the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” In recent decades, the President has expanded his State of the Union audience, addressing the speech to both the nation and Members of Congress.

Over time, the State of the Union address has evolved considerably. The format and delivery of the speech have changed, and its length has fluctuated widely. Technology has also influenced the delivery of the address, with the advent of radio, television, and the Internet playing significant roles in the transformation.

Although each President uses the State of the Union address to outline his administration’s policy agenda, most incorporate common rhetorical arguments and ceremonial traditions. Bipartisanship, attention to both the past and the future, and optimism are recurring themes in State of the Union addresses.

The legislative success rate of policy proposals mentioned in State of the Union addresses varies widely. Addresses given after a President’s election or reelection and during periods of unified party government tend to produce higher rates of legislative success. Presidents can also use the State of the Union address to increase media attention for a particular issue.

Immediately following the State of the Union address, the political party not occupying the White House provides an opposition response. The response, usually much shorter than the State of the Union, outlines the opposition party’s policy agenda and serves as an official rejoinder to the proposals outlined by the President.

Lake Superior State University 2013 Banished Words List

December 31, 2012 Comments off

Lake Superior State University 2013 Banished Words List

Source: Lake Superior State University

While the U.S. Congress has been kicking the can down the road and inching closer to the fiscal cliff, the word gurus at Lake Superior State University have doubled-down on their passion for the language and have released their 38th annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.

The list, compiled from nominations sent to LSSU throughout the year, is released each year on New Year’s Eve. It dates back to Dec. 31, 1975, when former LSSU Public Relations Director Bill Rabe (RAY-bee) and some colleagues cooked up the whimsical idea to banish overused words and phrases from the language. They issued the first list on New Year’s Day 1976. Much to the delight of word enthusiasts everywhere, the list has stayed the course into a fourth decade.

Through the years, LSSU has received tens of thousands of nominations for the list, which is closing in on its 1,000th banishment.

This year’s list is culled from nominations received mostly through the university’s website. Word-watchers target pet peeves from everyday speech, as well as from the news, fields of education, technology, advertising, politics and more. A committee makes a final cut in late December.

So, let’s see what’s trending. Grab your favorite superfood (boneless wings) as the list creators at LSSU reveal (spoiler alert!) their bucket list of misused, overused and generally useless words and phrases. YOLO!

CRS — Counting Electoral Votes: An Overview of Procedures at the Joint Session, Including Objections by Members of Congress

December 31, 2012 Comments off

Counting Electoral Votes: An Overview of Procedures at the Joint Session, Including Objections by Members of Congress (PDF)

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

The Constitution and federal law establish a detailed timetable following the presidential election during which time the members of the electoral college convene in the 50 state capitals and in the District of Columbia, cast their votes for President and Vice President, and submit their votes through state officials to both houses of Congress. The electoral votes are opened before a joint session of Congress on January 6, unless that date is changed by law. Federal law specifies the procedures which are to be followed at this session and provides procedures for challenges to the validity of an electoral vote. This report describes the steps in the process and precedents set in prior presidential elections governing the actions of the House and Senate in certifying the electoral vote and in responding to challenges of the validity of one or more electoral votes from one or more states.

This report has been revised, and will be updated on a periodic basis to provide the dates for the relevant joint session of Congress, and to reflect any new, relevant precedents or practices.

CRS — Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program: An Overview

December 31, 2012 Comments off

Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program: An Overview (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

The Hollings Manufacturing Partnership (MEP) is a program of regional centers that assist smaller, U.S.-based manufacturing companies in identifying and adopting new technologies. Operating under the auspices of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), centers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico provide technical and managerial assistance to firms. Federal funding is matched by non-federal sources. Existing resources in government, business, and academia are leveraged while the program endeavors to build on current state and local activities and industrial extension efforts.

The MEP program has, at times, been included in the discussion surrounding termination of government programs that provide direct federal support for industry. Questions have been raised in congressional debate as to the appropriateness of government funding for this program when the technologies are available in the marketplace. Instead of the government picking “winners and losers,” opponents argue, the marketplace should make decisions regarding firms worthy of investment. However, proponents of the program stress that, to date, no direct funding is available to companies through MEP and that assistance is technical, scientific, and/or managerial. The centers facilitate the adoption of new technologies that foster competition and promote innovation. As Congress continues to make appropriation decisions, support for manufacturing extension may be discussed in the context of the role of the federal government in facilitating research and technological advancement.

CRS — 2006 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5): Designating Nonattainment Areas

December 31, 2012 Comments off

2006 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5): Designating Nonattainment Areas (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its final revisions to the Clean Air Act (CAA) National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter (particulates, or PM) on October 17, 2006. EPA’s actions leading up to and following promulgation of the 2006 standard have been the subject of considerable congressional oversight. EPA and states’ ongoing implementation of the standard, beginning with the designation of those geographical areas not in compliance, likewise has been an area of concern and debate among some Members of Congress, states, and other stakeholders for some time. EPA’s most recent round of periodic review of the particulates NAAQS and proposal to revise the PM NAAQS, published June 29, 2012, have prompted further scrutiny of the ongoing implementation of the standards. EPA has agreed to issue final revised PM NAAQS by December 14, 2012.

Promulgation of NAAQS sets in motion a process under which the states and EPA identify areas that exceed the standard (“nonattainment areas”) using multi-year air quality monitoring data and other criteria, requiring states to take steps to reduce pollutant concentrations in order to achieve it. The publication of the final designations for the 2006 NAAQS—and thus the effective date of the final designations—had initially been delayed pending review by the current Administration. On November 13, 2009, EPA published its final designations for the 2006 PM NAAQS that included 120 counties and portions of counties in 18 states as nonattainment areas based on 2006 through 2008 air quality monitoring data. The final designations, which include tribal land of 22 tribes, were effective as of December 14, 2009. States have three years from the effective date to submit nonattainment area State Implementation Plans (SIPs), which identify specific regulations and emission control requirements that would bring a nonattainment area into compliance.

The 2006 NAAQS strengthened the pre-existing (1997) standard for “fine” particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter (PM2.5) by lowering the allowable daily concentration of PM2.5 in the air. The daily standard averaged over 24-hour periods was reduced from 65 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m 3 ) to 35 µg/m 3 . However, the annual PM2.5 standard, which addresses human health effects from chronic exposures to the pollutants, was unchanged from the 1997 standard of 15 µg/m 3 . The 2006 NAAQS did not substantially modify the daily standard for slightly larger, but still inhalable, particles less than or equal to 10 micrometers (PM10), retaining the 24-hour standard but revoking the annual standard for PM10. EPA’s final nonattainment designations are only for the revised 2006 24-hour PM2.5 standard. EPA did not require new nonattainment designations for the PM2.5 annual standard and for PM10.

The final designations for the 2006 PM2.5 NAAQS included a few areas designated nonattainment for PM2.5 for the first time, but, as expected, the majority of the counties identified overlapped with EPA’s final nonattainment designations for the 1997 PM2.5 NAAQS. EPA’s designations for the 1997 PM2.5 NAAQS included all or part of 204 counties in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Most of them were only exceeding the annual standard; only 12 counties were exceeding both the 24-hour and the annual standards. Thus, the 2006 tightening of the 24-hour standard resulted in an increased number of areas being designated nonattainment based on exceedances of both the 24-hour and the annual standards.

Number of jailed journalists sets global record

December 30, 2012 Comments off

Number of jailed journalists sets global record

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists

Imprisonment of journalists worldwide reached a record high in 2012, driven in part by the widespread use of charges of terrorism and other anti-state offenses against critical reporters and editors, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found. In its annual census of imprisoned journalists, CPJ identified 232 individuals behind bars on December 1, an increase of 53 over its 2011 tally.

Large-scale imprisonments in Turkey, Iran, and China helped lift the global tally to its highest point since CPJ began conducting worldwide surveys in 1990, surpassing the previous record of 185 in 1996. The three nations, the world’s worst jailers of the press, each made extensive use of vague anti-state laws to silence dissenting political views, including those expressed by ethnic minorities. Worldwide, anti-state charges such as terrorism, treason, and subversion were the most common allegations brought against journalists in 2012. At least 132 journalists were being held around the world on such charges, CPJ’s census found.

Eritrea and Syria also ranked among the world’s worst, each jailing numerous journalists without charge or due process and holding them in secret prisons without access to lawyers or family members. Worldwide, 63 journalists are being held without any publicly disclosed charge.

Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia rounded out the 10 worst jailers. In two of those nations, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, the authorities used retaliatory charges such as hooliganism and drug possession to jail critical reporters and editors. In 19 cases worldwide, governments used a variety of charges unrelated to journalism to silence critical journalists. In the cases included in this census, CPJ determined that the charges were fabricated.

HHS OIG — Compendium of Unimplemented Recommendations

December 29, 2012 Comments off

Compendium of Unimplemented Recommendations (PDF)

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General

The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) Compendium of Unimplemented Recommendations (Compendium) summarizes significant1 monetary and nonmonetary recommendations that, when implemented, will result in cost savings and/or improvements in program efficiency and effectiveness. The recommendations result from audits and evaluations that are performed pursuant to the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended.

State Variations of Chronic Disease Risk Factors in Older Americans

December 28, 2012 Comments off

State Variations of Chronic Disease Risk Factors in Older Americans

Source: Preventing Chronic Disease

Abstract

The objective of this study was to examine and compare 3 key health behaviors associated with chronic disease (ie, risky drinking, smoking, and sedentary lifestyle). We used data from the National Health Interview Survey from 1997 through 2010 to calculate the prevalence of these behaviors among older Americans and rank each state, and we analyzed overall trends in prevalence for each behavior over the 14 years. Older adults residing in Arkansas and Montana had the worst chronic disease risk profile compared with other states. These findings indicate the need for improved or increased targeted interventions in these states.

Objective

Risky drinking, smoking, and sedentary lifestyle are key health behaviors associated with chronic disease and increased illness and death in older adults (1). Excessive drinking is associated with cancers of the liver, head and neck, colorectum, pancreas, and breast, as well as cardiovascular disease and diabetes (2). Smoking is associated with cancer and poor cardiovascular outcomes (1). Cardiovascular disease and cancer risk are increased by sedentary behavior (1). The objective of this study was to examine the prevalence and trends of these 3 health behaviors among older Americans and rank them at the state level to determine the best allocation of public health resources.

Methods

Data were obtained from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), an annual, cross-sectional, multistage probability household survey of the noninstitutionalized civilian US population, from 1997 through 2010. Eligibility criteria were adults aged 65 or older (N = 79,973; representing 34,632,575 people). NHIS questions regarding the 3 variables are available online (3). Smoker was defined as “current smoker” (4). Risky drinking was defined as current drinkers having 10 or more drinks per week in men and 7 or more drinks per week in women, or having 5 or more drinks on 1 occasion, 1 or more times per year for men and women (4). Physical activity level was defined as compliance with the Healthy People 2010 goal of moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes per day on 5 or more days per week or vigorous physical activity for at least 20 minutes per day on 3 or more days per week (5).

NHIS data were pooled and analyses were conducted using SAS version 9.2 (SAS Institute Inc, Cary, North Carolina), adjusting for sample weights and design effects (3). We calculated prevalence, standard errors (SEs), and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) and ranked states according to the prevalence of each risk factor indicator. We analyzed trends by using weighted linear regression of prevalence on year. Weight was generated with the inverse of the variance of prevalence. Some states were missing values because they did not meet the criteria for stable estimate analysis in all study years (6).

Because state-level data are not released to the public, all analyses were performed remotely at the National Center for Health Statistics Research Data Center. The study was approved by the University of Miami’s institutional review board.

Results

The prevalence of smoking among US adults aged 65 years or older was 9.6% (Table 1). States with the highest smoking prevalence were Nevada (17.9%) and Kentucky (15.0%). States with the lowest rates of smoking were Utah (5.4%) and South Dakota (6.2%). Overall, 22% of older Americans reported risky drinking patterns; Arizona and New Hampshire had the highest prevalence, both at 29.0%, and the lowest prevalences were found in Kansas (14.4%) and Oklahoma (16.4%) (Table 2). Twenty-two percent of older Americans reported meeting physical activity recommendations; the highest prevalence was reported in Colorado (30.8%), Hawaii (34.8%), and Maine (40.1%), and the lowest prevalence was reported in Louisiana (13.4%), Mississippi (13.4%), and South Dakota (14.6%) (Table 3). Older Americans residing in Arkansas and Montana were in the top 10 worst rankings for all 3 behaviors.

A downward trend in smoking was observed during the 14 years for California (slope, −0.32; SE, 0.09; P = .004) and South Carolina (slope, −0.54; SE, 0.21; P = .046), and an increased trend for risky drinking was observed in Massachusetts (slope, 1.07; SE, 0.39; P = .026). In North Carolina (slope, 0.82; SE, 0.25; P = .007) and Texas (slope, 0.57; SE, 0.16; P = .004), an upward trend in exercise compliance was observed. Trend analysis was not conducted for 7 states and the District of Columbia due to insufficient sample sizes.

Discussion

The average age of Americans is expected to increase substantially in the coming years (7). Modifying key health behaviors and creating cost-effective interventions may contribute to decreasing illness and death in this growing population demographic (8).

Lifestyle changes that occur with aging can affect chronic disease risk. Older adults who exercise regularly have a reduced mortality risk (9), but those who drink alcohol excessively are more prone to oxidative stress, which further increases the incidence of chronic disease (10). A twofold higher mortality rate was shown for older male smokers than nonsmokers (11). Risky drinking with aging has been positively associated with vigorous physical activity and negatively associated with current smoking, possibly reflecting better health among adults who engage in risky drinking as they age (12). Nevertheless, excessive alcohol consumption is associated with risk of falls (1) and adverse medication interactions in older Americans (10).

Limitations of this study included an inability to use estimates from all states due to small sample sizes or unstable estimates in some states (ie, a relative SE of ≥30%). We were unable to conduct complete trend analyses for all states given sample size limitations. The strength of this study was the access to a large set of sample data at the state level for prevalence comparisons in older Americans.

Public health resources should focus on specific interventions to affect behaviors in states with residents at high risk for developing chronic disease. These resources can include a purposeful combination of the following: 1) increasing tobacco excise taxes, proven to be the most effective means to decrease smoking (1), 2) using online and telephone substance abuse treatment facility locators and media campaigns to disseminate information on alcohol abuse (1), and 3) enhancing access to recreational and physical activity facilities in communities specific to older Americans, pursuant to the Healthy People 2010 guidelines (5). Emphasis on geographic aggregation of risk factors should be considered so that integrated and tailored prevention activities can be developed and customized to each state’s profile and funds be made appropriately available. States with the highest prevalence of 2 or 3 risky behaviors should review resource allocation to promote health more effectively.

Virtually Naked: Virtual Environment Reveals Sex-Dependent Nature of Skin Disclosure

December 28, 2012 Comments off

Virtually Naked: Virtual Environment Reveals Sex-Dependent Nature of Skin Disclosure
Source: PLoS ONE

The human tendency to reveal or cover naked skin reflects a competition between the individual propensity for social interactions related to sexual appeal and interpersonal touch versus climatic, environmental, physical, and cultural constraints. However, due to the ubiquitous nature of these constraints, isolating on a large scale the spontaneous human tendency to reveal naked skin has remained impossible. Using the online 3-dimensional virtual world of Second Life, we examined spontaneous human skin-covering behavior unhindered by real-world climatic, environmental, and physical variables. Analysis of hundreds of avatars revealed that virtual females disclose substantially more naked skin than virtual males. This phenomenon was not related to avatar hypersexualization as evaluated by measurement of sexually dimorphic body proportions. Furthermore, analysis of skin-covering behavior of a population of culturally homogeneous avatars indicated that the propensity of female avatars to reveal naked skin persisted despite explicit cultural norms promoting less revealing attire. These findings have implications for further understanding how sex-specific aspects of skin disclosure influence human social interactions in both virtual and real settings.

See: Virtual Women Reveal More Skin, Regardless of Body Proportions (Science Daily)

The Recession’s Ongoing Impact on Children, 2012: Indicators of Children’s Economic Well-Being

December 28, 2012 Comments off

The Recession’s Ongoing Impact on Children, 2012: Indicators of Children’s Economic Well-Being

Source: Urban Institute

This issue brief provides nearly "real-time" tracking of the recession’s impact on children, with state-by-state data through 2012 on children with an unemployed parent and individuals receiving SNAP benefits, as well as the authors’ predictions of state child poverty rates for 2012. There has not been much change in children’s economic well-being over the past year, but there has been a sharp deterioration compared with conditions before the recession. Compared to 2007, more children today live in families with an unemployed parent, families that turn to SNAP benefits to help pay their grocery bills, and/or families below the poverty threshold.

Disease Ecology, Biodiversity, and the Latitudinal Gradient in Income

December 28, 2012 Comments off

Disease Ecology, Biodiversity, and the Latitudinal Gradient in Income

Source: PLoS Biology

While most of the world is thought to be on long-term economic growth paths, more than one-sixth of the world is roughly as poor today as their ancestors were hundreds of years ago. The majority of the extremely poor live in the tropics. The latitudinal gradient in income is highly suggestive of underlying biophysical drivers, of which disease conditions are an especially salient example. However, conclusions have been confounded by the simultaneous causality between income and disease, in addition to potentially spurious relationships. We use a simultaneous equations model to estimate the relative effects of vector-borne and parasitic diseases (VBPDs) and income on each other, controlling for other factors. Our statistical model indicates that VBPDs have systematically affected economic development, evident in contemporary levels of per capita income. The burden of VBDPs is, in turn, determined by underlying ecological conditions. In particular, the model predicts it to rise as biodiversity falls. Through these positive effects on human health, the model thus identifies measurable economic benefits of biodiversity.

2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation Final National Report Released

December 28, 2012 Comments off

2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation Final National Report Released

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Wildlife-related outdoor recreation increased dramatically from 2006 to 2011. The national details are shown in the final report (Final Report) of the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation released today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). The Final Report, which follows the August 2012 Preliminary Review and the September 2012 State Overview, provides more information on the types of activities and money spent for fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching.

Highlights of the Final Report include:

  • More than 90 million U.S. residents 16 years old and older participated in some form of wildlife-related recreation in 2011; that is up 3 percent from five years earlier. The increase was primarily among those who fished and hunted.
  • Wildlife recreationists spent $144.7 billion in 2011 on their activities, which equated to 1 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. Of the total amount spent, $49.5 billion was trip-related, $70.4 billion was spent on equipment, and $24.8 billion was spent on other items such as licenses and land leasing and ownership.
  • The number of sportspersons rose from 33.9 million in 2006 to 37.4 million in 2011. The data show that 33.1 million people fished, 13.7 million hunted, and 71.8 million participated in at least one type of wildlife-watching activity such as observing, feeding and photographing wildlife.

College-Educated Immigrants in the United States

December 28, 2012 Comments off

College-Educated Immigrants in the United States

Source: Migration Policy Institute

Contrary to a widely held view, immigrants in the United States have an expansive range of education levels, with about one in three immigrants having obtained a college degree.

According to the US Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey (ACS), immigrants accounted for 16 percent of the 58.8 million college-educated persons. However, their numbers were much higher among workers in certain occupations: Immigrants represent nearly 28 percent of physicians, more than 31 percent of computer programmers, and over 47 percent of medical scientists.

This spotlight provides a brief demographic and socioeconomic profile of college-educated natives and immigrants (age 25 and older) in 2011 and those who were engaged in the US civilian labor force. Unless noted otherwise, this article draws on 2011 ACS data.

CRS — Membership of the 112th Congress: A Profile

December 27, 2012 Comments off

Membership of the 112th Congress: A Profile (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

This report presents a profile of the membership of the 112th Congress (2011-2012). Statistical information is included on selected characteristics of Members, including data on party affiliation, average age, occupation, education, length of congressional service, religious affiliation, gender, ethnicity, foreign births, and military service.

Currently, in the House of Representatives there are 241 Republicans, 198 Democrats (including 5 Delegates and the Resident Commissioner), and 2 vacant seats. The Senate has 47 Republicans, 51 Democrats, and 2 Independents, who caucus with the Democrats.

The average age of Members of the House at the beginning of the 112 th Congress was 56.7 years; and of Senators, 62.2 years. The overwhelming majority of Members have a college education. The dominant professions of Members are public service/politics, business, and law. Protestants collectively constitute the majority religious affiliation of Members. Roman Catholics account for the largest single religious denomination, and numerous other affiliations are represented.

The average length of service for Representatives at the beginning of the 112 th Congress was 9.8 years (4.9 terms); for Senators, 11.4 years (1.9 terms).

Ninety-four women serve in the 112 th Congress: 77 in the House, including 3 Delegates, and 17 in the Senate. There are 43 African American Members of the House (a record number) and none in the Senate. This House number includes 2 Delegates. There are 31 Hispanic or Latino Members serving: 29 in the House, including 1 Delegate and the Resident Commissioner, and 2 in the Senate. Twelve Members (eight Representatives, two Delegates, and two Senators) are Asian or Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander. The only American Indian (Native American) serves in the House.

The portions of this report covering political party affiliation, gender, ethnicity, and vacant seats will be updated as events warrant. The remainder of the report will not be updated.

CRS — Emergency Response: Civil Liability of Volunteer Health Professionals

December 27, 2012 Comments off

Emergency Response: Civil Liability of Volunteer Health Professionals (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

The devastation inflicted on the Gulf region by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008, in addition to recent disasters in the Midwest due to tornadoes and flooding, triggered mass relief efforts by local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as private organizations and individuals. As unpaid volunteers have carried out much of the relief effort, some have questioned whether such volunteers—particularly medical personnel, so-called “volunteer health professionals” (VHPs)—will be protected from potential civil liability in carrying out their duties. This report provides a general overview of the various federal and state liability protections available to VHPs responding to disasters. This report does not discuss liability of VHPs who go abroad to render assistance.

CRS — Small Business Size Standards: A Historical Analysis of Contemporary Issues

December 27, 2012 Comments off

Small Business Size Standards: A Historical Analysis of Contemporary Issues (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

Small business size standards are of congressional interest because the standards determine eligibility for receiving Small Business Administration (SBA) assistance as well as federal contracting and tax preferences. Although there is bipartisan agreement that the nation’s small businesses play an important role in the American economy, there are differences of opinion concerning how to define them. The Small Business Act of 1953 (P.L. 83-163, as amended) authorized the SBA to establish size standards for determining eligibility for federal small business assistance. The SBA currently uses two size standards to determine SBA program eligibility: industry-specific size standards and an alternative size standard based on the applicant’s maximum tangible net worth and average net income after federal taxes.

The SBA’s industry-specific size standards determine program eligibility for firms in 1,047 industrial classifications in 18 sub-industry activities described in the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). The size standards are based on the following five measures: number of employees, average annual receipts in the previous three years, asset size, annual megawatt hours of electric output in the preceding fiscal year, or a combination of number of employees and barrel per day refining capacity. Overall, the SBA currently classifies about 97% of all employer firms as small. These firms represent about 30% of industry receipts.

The SBA has always based its size standards on economic analysis of each industry’s overall competitiveness and the competitiveness of firms within each industry. However, in the absence of precise statutory guidance and consensus on how to define small, the SBA’s size standards have often been challenged, typically by industry representatives seeking to increase the number of firms eligible for assistance and by Members concerned that the size standards may not adequately target assistance to firms that they consider to be truly small.

During the 111 th Congress, P.L. 111-240, the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, authorized the SBA to establish an alternative size standard using maximum tangible net worth and average net income after federal taxes for both the 7(a) and 504/CDC loan guaranty programs. It also established, until the SBA acted, an interim alternative size standard for the 7(a) and 504/CDC programs of not more than $15 million in tangible net worth and not more than $5 million in average net income after federal taxes (excluding any carry-over losses) for the two full fiscal years before the date of the application. It also required the SBA to conduct a detailed review of not less than one-third of the SBA’s industry size standards every 18 months.

This report provides a historical examination of the SBA’s size standards, assesses competing views concerning how to define a small business, and discusses how the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 might affect program eligibility. It also discusses H.R. 585, the Small Business Size Standard Flexibility Act of 2011, which would authorize the SBA’s Office of Chief Counsel for Advocacy to approve or disapprove a size standard proposed by a federal agency if it deviates from the SBA’s size standards. The SBA’s Administrator currently has that authority. It also discusses H.R. 3987, the Small Business Protection Act of 2012, and H.R. 4310, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which would require the SBA to make available a justification when establishing or approving a size standard that the size standard is appropriate for each individual industry classification within a grouping of four-digit NAICS codes. These two bills also address the SBA’s recent practice of combining size standards within industrial groups as a means to reduce the complexity of its size standards and to provide greater consistency for industrial classifications that have similar economic characteristics.

New From the GAO

December 27, 2012 Comments off

New GAO Report

Source: Government Accountability Office

U.S. POSTAL SERVICE
Status, Financial Outlook, and Alternative Approaches to Fund Retiree Health Benefits
GAO-13-112, Dec 4, 2012

CRS — A Guide to China’s Upcoming Leadership Transitions

December 27, 2012 Comments off

A Guide to China’s Upcoming Leadership Transitions (PDF)

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

China, the only Communist Party-led nation in the G-20 grouping of major economies, is in the midst of a sweeping set of political transitions that began in 2011 and could conclude as late as 2014. The most important of the transitions is to take place at the next of the Party’s quinquennial national congresses, the 18 th Congress, scheduled to open on November 8, 2012, and at a Central Committee meeting immediately afterwards, at which the Party is to appoint a new General Secretary and a new collective leadership. Four months later, at the 12 th National People’s Congress in March 2013, China is to appoint new State and National People’s Congress leaders. The Party’s new General Secretary, assumed to be Xi Jinping, is expected to be named State President, while another member of the collective Party leadership, current Vice Premier Li Keqiang, is expected to be named State Premier. So far unclear is whether China’s current top leader, Hu Jintao, will give up his post overseeing China’s military at the 18 th Party Congress, or whether he will retain the military job for two more years, until 2014.

The U.S. Congress has a strong interest in China’s upcoming leadership transitions. China is the United States’ second largest trading partner and largest supplier of imports, as well as being the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt. Both countries are major players in global efforts to tackle the European debt crisis, rein in the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, and manage instability in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring. China’s military modernization is now a factor in U.S. strategic planning. Who the new Chinese leaders are, the inter-personal dynamics among them, and their policy inclinations will have significant implications for U.S.- China relations and for the China’s role in the Asia-Pacific region and the world. Congress also has an interest in understanding China’s upcoming political transitions as a means of evaluating China’s progress, or lack thereof, toward giving its citizens a meaningful role in the development of their political system.

This report is intended to provide Congress with a guide to the transitions, covering their distinct features and specific issues of interest, including the Party’s next steps in the ongoing scandal involving Bo Xilai, the former Chongqing Party Secretary and Politburo member who fell from grace after his wife was implicated in the murder of a British businessman. This report also previews some of the challenges facing China’s new leaders, starting with the requirement to consolidate their power. Xi Jinping would be the first top leader in the post-Mao Zedong era not personally selected by Deng Xiaoping, the dominant political figure of the era. He and his colleagues will also have to contend with not one but two retired Communist Party General Secretaries jockeying for influence behind the scenes, and with an irreverent micro-blogging Chinese public primed to pounce on their mistakes. Policy challenges for China’s new leaders include determining the appropriate role for the state sector in an ambitious shift in economic growth models, re-conceiving China’s foreign policy, and deciding how to respond to growing public expectations for political reform. The United States has a strong interest in how China’s new leaders choose to approach all those challenges.

Subsequent reports will cover the outcomes of the 18 th Party Congress and the 12 th National People’s Congress. For a detailed discussion of the Chinese political system, please see CRS Report R41007, Understanding China’s Political System , by Susan V. Lawrence and Michael F. Martin. For background information about Xi Jinping, the man expected to be named General Secretary of the Communist Party at the 18 th Party Congress in November, see CRS Report R42342, China’s Vice President Xi Jinping Visits the United States: What Is at Stake?, by Susan V. Lawrence.

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