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Lack of Planning in $34.4 Million Department of Agriculture Soybean Program in Afghanistan

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Lack of Planning in $34.4 Million Department of Agriculture Soybean Program in Afghanistan (PDF)
Source: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

The Honorable Tom Vilsack Secretary U.S. Department of Agriculture

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Thank you for your response to my inquiry letter dated April 17, 2014, concerning the Soybeans for Agricultural Renewal in Afghanistan Initiative (SARAI) funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). After examining the materials that you provided, I’m concerned about the viability of the project and the apparent lack of analysis and planning performed prior to the project’s initiation. I’m most troubled by the following issues:

• The USDA confirmed that soybean production in Afghanistan has not met expectations and that there are doubts concerning the long-term sustainability of a soybean processing factory built as part of the project.

• The project’s implementer, the American Soybean Association, did not conduct feasibility or value-chain studies prior to initiation of the project in 2010.

• Scientific research conducted for the UK Department for International Development between 2005 and 2008 concluded that soybeans were inappropriate for conditions and farming practices in northern Afghanistan, where the program was implemented.

• Despite the lack of prior planning and analysis, and despite evidence that may have put the success of the program in doubt, USDA provided $34.4 million in commodities, transportation, and administrative funds to ASA for SARAI.

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Census Bureau Releases Industry Series Report on Semiconductors and Related Device Manufacturing

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Census Bureau Releases Industry Series Report on Semiconductors and Related Device Manufacturing
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau today released additional figures from the 2012 Economic Census Industry Series reports for the manufacturing sector of the economy. This release includes new statistics for semiconductor and related device manufacturing (NAICS 334413).

Highlights include:

  • The semiconductor and related device manufacturing industry employed 90,244 people in 2012, down 38.3 percent from 146,152 employed in 2007.
  • The total value of industry shipments in the semiconductor and related device manufacturing industry was $72.2 billion in 2012.
  • The cost of gold and other precious metals used as a material in this industry more than doubled from $149.3 million in 2007 to $372.0 million in 2012, an increase of 149.1 percent.

Highlights of value of product shipment data

  • The total value of product shipments in the semiconductor and related device manufacturing industry was $70.7 billion in 2012.
  • Memory increased 24.4 percent from $6.0 billion in 2007 to $7.5 billion in 2012.
  • Transistors decreased 42.2 percent from $938.0 million in 2007 to $542.0 million in 2012.
  • Microprocessors made up 58.6 percent ($41.4 billion) of the total value of product shipments from semiconductors and related devices ($70.7 billion) in 2012.

Additionality in U.S. Agricultural Conservation and Regulatory Offset Programs

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Additionality in U.S. Agricultural Conservation and Regulatory Offset Programs
Source: USDA Economic Research Service

The Federal Government spent more than $6 billion in fiscal year 2013 on voluntary conservation payment programs to encourage the adoption of a wide range of conservation practices that address multiple environmental and resource conservation goals. Conservation payments can also come from private industry, particularly in the context of an agricultural offset market established as part of a cap-and-trade system designed to reduce nutrient or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Payments lead to improvement in environmental quality only if farmers and ranchers who receive them adopt conservation practices that would not have been adopted without the payment.

When a voluntary payment causes a change in practice(s) that leads to improved environmental quality, these changes are “additional.” For any type of voluntary payment, there is some risk that the farmers or ranchers who receive them would have adopted the required practice(s), even without the payment. This study measures additionality for a number of common conservation practices typically supported by voluntary conservation payments and examines ways to increase additionality.

Report Finds NSA Surveillance Harming Journalism and Law

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Report Finds NSA Surveillance Harming Journalism and Law
Source: ACLU and Human Rights Watch

Large-scale U.S. surveillance is seriously hampering U.S.-based journalists and lawyers in their work, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report released today. Surveillance is undermining media freedom and the right to counsel, and ultimately obstructing the American people’s ability to hold their government to account, the groups said.

The 120-page report, “With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale U.S. Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy,” is based on extensive interviews with dozens of journalists, lawyers, and senior U.S. government officials. It documents how national security journalists and lawyers are adopting elaborate steps or otherwise modifying their practices to keep communications, sources, and other confidential information secure in light of revelations of unprecedented U.S. government surveillance of electronic communications and transactions. The report finds that government surveillance and secrecy are undermining press freedom, the public’s right to information, and the right to counsel, all human rights essential to a healthy democracy.

The 2013 Federal Reserve Payments Study — Recent and Long-Term Trends in the United States: 2000–2012

July 28, 2014 Comments off

The 2013 Federal Reserve Payments Study — Recent and Long-Term Trends in the United States: 2000–2012 (PDF)
Source: Federal Reserve Board

Underlying the net economic output of the country are billions of transactions between buyers and sellers of goods and services (such as consumers and merchants, factories and suppliers, employers and employees), as well as various financial transactions (such as transfers of balances between accounts, loan originations, and loan payments). The 2013 Federal Reserve Payments Study attempts to measure the number and value of all such transactions conducted over noncash payment systems—including general-purpose and private-label card systems, automated clearinghouse (ACH), and checks. The study builds on the triennial Federal Reserve Payments Study series, conducted since 2001, to paint a more comprehensive picture of the U.S. payments system.

New From the GAO

July 28, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Railroad Retirement Board: Total and Permanent Disability Program at Risk of Improper Payments. GAO-14-418,June 26.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-418
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664467.pdf

2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Opportunity Exists to Improve Transparency of Civil Penalty Fund Activities. GAO-14-551, June 26.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-551
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664452.pdf

3. Drinking Water: EPA Program to Protect Underground Sources from Injection of Fluids Associated With Oil and Gas Production Needs Improvement. GAO-14-555, June 27.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-555
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664500.pdf

4. Media Ownership: FCC Should Review the Effects of Broadcaster Agreements on Its Media Policy Goals. GAO-14-558, June 27.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-558
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664485.pdf

5. Security Clearances: Tax Debts Owed by DOD Employees and Contractors. GAO-14-686R, July 28.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-686R

EIA — OPEC Revenues Fact Sheet

July 28, 2014 Comments off

OPEC Revenues Fact Sheet
Source: Energy Information Administration

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that, excluding Iran, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) earned about $826 billion in net oil export revenues in 2013. This was a 7% decrease from 2012 earnings, but still the second-largest earnings totals during the 1975-2013 period for which EIA has tracked OPEC oil revenues. OPEC earnings declined largely for two reasons: a drop in OPEC oil production in 2013 (largely because of the supply disruption in Libya), and a 3% decline in average crude oil prices (as measured by the Brent crude oil price marker).

Saudi Arabia earned the largest share of these earnings, $274 billion in 2013, representing approximately one-third of total OPEC oil revenues. On a per capita basis, OPEC (excluding Iran) net oil export earnings reached about $2,520 in 2013. These net export earnings do not include Iran’s revenues, because of the difficulties associated with estimating Iran’s earnings, including the country’s inability to receive payments and possible price discounts Iran offers its existing customers.

Based on projections from EIA’s July 2014 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA estimates that OPEC (excluding Iran) could earn about $774 billion in net oil export revenues in 2014 and $723 billion in 2015 (unadjusted for inflation). These declines from the 2013 level are the result of projected declines in the call on OPEC crude oil production because of the large increases in non-OPEC production for 2014-15, as well as expected crude oil price declines that are also the result of declines in the call on OPEC crude oil production.

An Imperative for Consumer Companies to Go Green

July 25, 2014 Comments off

An Imperative for Consumer Companies to Go Green
Source: Boston Consulting Group

Goods labeled organic, natural, ecological, and fair trade are no longer a niche in the food, personal-care, and household products sectors. These goods have entered mainstream retailers and become a large part of the market, with a broad base of consumers now purchasing them. In an otherwise stagnant industry, these “responsible consumption” (RC) products represent a major area of profitable growth.

The Boston Consulting Group has worked with market research company Information Resources Inc. to analyze point-of-sale data from nearly all retail chains in the U.S. (grocery, convenience, department, and wholesale-club stores). Not only do RC products account for 15 percent of all sales in these chains but also sales have grown about 9 percent annually in the past three years—making up 70 percent of total growth. Similar turnover and growth levels are expected across developed markets. Global surveys point to future growth as well, as most consumers intend to expand the number of categories in which they seek out RC products.

Most of this growth, however, is going not to A brands—the major product brands—but to specialty brands and to both specialty and conventional retailers. Most A-brand manufacturers, in fact, have weak or nonexistent offerings in this area. Continued inaction may cost A brands one-third of their current consumers over the next few years.

While A brands bring major scale and distribution advantages to the table, consumers are less likely to trust them when it comes to RC products. To build trust while leveraging these advantages, A brands can either acquire a specialty brand and grant it considerable autonomy or build an RC brand internally with external validation. A third option is to embrace “responsible” criteria for the entire A brand. Any of these options is preferable to maintaining a wait-and-see approach.

Country Analysis Brief: Algeria

July 25, 2014 Comments off

Country Analysis Brief: Algeria
Source: Energy Information Administration

Algeria is the leading natural gas producer in Africa, the second-largest natural gas supplier to Europe outside of the region, and is among the top three oil producers in Africa. Algeria became a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1969, shortly after it began oil production in 1958. Algeria’s economy is heavily reliant on revenues generated from its hydrocarbon sector, which account for about 30% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), more than 95% of export earnings, and 60% of budget revenues, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Guidelines for Digital Newspaper Preservation Readiness

July 25, 2014 Comments off

Guidelines for Digital Newspaper Preservation Readiness
Source: Educopia Institute

Libraries and other cultural memory organizations curate a substantial body of digital newspaper content. The genesis of these collections is often a series of iterative and cumulative digitization and born-digital acquisitions with idiosyncratic and ad-hoc data storage structures that vary radically in their file types, structures, and metadata. These institutions have limited resources to expend on the normalization or restructuring of their legacy digital content.

The NEH-funded Chronicles in Preservation project has produced a set of Guidelines that explicitly differentiate between the essential and the optimal in preservation readiness activities and that document the incremental steps that institutions may take to move from the essential to the optimal level of preservation readiness for their digital newspapers.

If institutions believe that they are incapable of readying their content for preservation according to emerging standards and guidelines, they may not take any action at all. If they instead can engage in an incremental process that allows them to begin preserving content now, while slowly and steadily building toward an optimal level of preservation readiness, they will be more likely to participate in preservation activities now.

Country Analysis Brief: Iran

July 24, 2014 Comments off

Country Analysis Brief: Iran
Source: Energy Information Administration

Iran holds some of the world’s largest deposits of proved oil and natural gas reserves, ranking as the world’s fourth-and second-largest reserve holder of oil and natural gas, respectively. Iran also ranks among the world’s top 10 oil producers and top 5 natural gas producers. Iran produced 3.2 million barrels per day (bbl/d) of petroleum and other liquids in 2013 and more than 5.6 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of dry natural gas in 2012.

The Strait of Hormuz, on the southeastern coast of Iran, is an important route for oil exports from Iran and other Persian Gulf countries. At its narrowest point, the Strait of Hormuz is 21 miles wide, yet an estimated 17 million bbl/d of crude oil and oil products flowed through it in 2013 (roughly one-third of all seaborne traded oil and almost 20% of total oil produced globally). Liquefied natural gas (LNG) volumes also flow through the Strait of Hormuz. Approximately 3.9 Tcf of LNG was transported via the Strait of Hormuz in 2013, almost all of which was from Qatar, accounting for about one-third of global LNG trade.

Associations between Film Preferences and Risk Factors for Suicide: An Online Survey

July 24, 2014 Comments off

Associations between Film Preferences and Risk Factors for Suicide: An Online Survey
Source: PLoS ONE

Several studies indicate that exposure to suicide in movies is linked to subsequent imitative suicidal behavior, so-called copycat suicides, but little is currently known about whether the link between exposure to suicidal movies and suicidality is reflected in individual film preferences. 943 individuals participated in an online survey. We assessed associations between preferred film genres as well as individual exposure to and rating of 50 pre-selected films (including 25 featuring a suicide) with suicidal ideation, hopelessness, depression, life satisfaction, and psychoticism. Multiple regression analyses showed that preferences for film noir movies and milieu dramas were associated with higher scores on suicidal ideation, depression and psychoticism, and low scores on life satisfaction. Furthermore, preferences for thrillers and horror movies as well as preferences for tragicomedies, tragedies and melodramas were associated with higher scores of some of the suicide risk factors. There was also a dose-response relationship between positive rating of suicide films and higher life satisfaction. Due to the cross-sectional design of the study causality cannot be assessed. Individual film genre preferences seem to reflect risk factors of suicide, with film genres focusing on sad contents being preferred by individuals with higher scores on suicide risk factors. However, suicide movies are more enjoyed by viewers with higher life satisfaction, which may reflect a better ability to cope with such content.

Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States

July 23, 2014 Comments off

Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Livestock-based food production is an important and pervasive way humans impact the environment. It causes about one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is the key land user and source of water pollution by nutrient overabundance. It also competes with biodiversity, and promotes species extinctions. Empowering consumers to make choices that mitigate some of these impacts through devising and disseminating numerically sound information is thus a key socioenvironmental priority. Unfortunately, currently available knowledge is incomplete and hampered by reliance on divergent methodologies that afford no general comparison of relative impacts of animal-based products. To overcome these hurdles, we introduce a methodology that facilitates such a comparison. We show that minimizing beef consumption mitigates the environmental costs of diet most effectively.

How oil and gas firms gained influence and transformed North Dakota

July 23, 2014 Comments off

How oil and gas firms gained influence and transformed North Dakota
Source: Center for Public Integrity

Oil development has transformed this state to the point where it’s hard to find a place or person that hasn’t been touched by the boom. Energy companies have drilled more than 8,000 wells into western North Dakota’s rugged prairie since the beginning of 2010, quadrupling the state’s oil production. From July 2011 through June 2013, the state collected $4 billion in oil taxes, and is expecting a $1 billion surplus for the current biennium, not including an oil-funded sovereign wealth fund that will approach a balance of $3 billion. North Dakota is in the uncommon position of facing a labor shortage, spurring a state-run campaign to attract workers, paid for in part by Hess Corp.

In addition to the tax revenue they’ve brought, the oil companies have showered the state with additional money — new millions for universities, museums, hospitals and other charitable causes. They’ve also given hundreds of thousands to politicians, making the sector the largest single source of those contributions. The oil industry is the top contributor to Gov. Jack Dalrymple, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and gave money in all but 10 of the 75 legislative races held in 2012.

Birth, life and death of an app: A look at the Apple App Store in July 2014

July 23, 2014 Comments off

Birth, life and death of an app: A look at the Apple App Store in July 2014 (PDF)
Source: adjust

As the App Store and the apps within it mature, more than ever it becomes essential for marketers to look at new techniques to re-engage existing users and get ROI. This report shows the development of the App Store and highlights the critical need for marketers to engage key audiences for ensuring the longevity of their app.

Currently, there are 1,252,777 apps available in the App Store, and as many as 60 thousand apps are added per month – and this rate is itself growing.

In 2013, 453,902 new apps were released in the Apple App Store, exceeding adjust’s prediction of over 435,100 new apps by 4 percent. Almost 15 percent of apps in the store were removed during the year, which adjust labels as “Dead Apps”, due to violating App Store terms and conditions or voluntarily pulled down by developers, leaving 396,341 available apps with a release date in 2013.

Over the next year we predict 578 thousand new apps will enter the App Store (by 1 July 2015).

State of the World’s Forests 2014

July 23, 2014 Comments off

State of the World’s Forests 2014
Source: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations

Across the world, forests, trees on farms, and agroforestry systems play a crucial role in the livelihoods of rural people by providing employment, energy, nutritious foods and a wide range of other goods and ecosystem services. They have tremendous potential to contribute to sustainable development and to a greener economy. Yet, clear evidence of this has been lacking. This evidence is critical to inform policies on forest management and use, and to ensure that the benefits from forests are recognized in the post-2015 development agenda, not only with respect to the environment, but also for their contributions to broader social issues. This edition of State of the World’s Forests addresses this knowledge gap by systematically gathering and analysing available data on forests’ contributions to people’s livelihoods, food, health, shelter and energy needs. Crucially, the report also suggests how information might be improved and policies adjusted, so that the socioeconomic benefits from forests can be enhanced in the future.

USPS OIG — Package Services: Get Ready, Set, Grow!

July 22, 2014 Comments off

Package Services: Get Ready, Set, Grow! (PDF)
Source: U.S. Postal Service, Office of Inspector General

The package delivery market has been growing considerably. Between 2008 and 2013, the U.S. Postal Service experienced a more than 20 percent increase in package volume. The main reason is the growing popularity of e-commerce, particularly online shopping. American businesses and consumers spent more than $68 billion to ship packages domestically in 2013. E-commerce sales in the U.S. alone this year will top $430 billion; global e-commerce will exceed $1.5 trillion.

There is no doubt that packages are growing in importance to the Postal Service’s future. To meet emerging customer demands, the Postal Service needs to position itself for long-term success and broaden its role across the package delivery value chain. The Postal Service has already taken some steps towards enhancing its ability to handle an increase in packages. However, it needs a strategy that includes expanding beyond the traditional postal expertise of last-mile delivery to offer one-stop.

Defense offsets: From ‘contractual burden’ to competitive weapon

July 22, 2014 Comments off

Defense offsets: From ‘contractual burden’ to competitive weapon
Source: McKinsey & Company

Western defense companies now need to look outside their core markets for growth. In the aftermath of the global economic crisis and over a decade of engagement in southwest Asia, many Western countries have scaled back their defense budgets, favoring instead more targeted spending and austerity plans. In Europe, ministries of defense are downsizing their military operations and procurement programs, and in the United States, the effects of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and sequestration will restrict defense spending through 2021 absent congressional action. By contrast, many countries representing addressable markets in Asia, the Middle East, and South America are investing in defense-modernization programs and over the past few years have increased their defense spending at compound annual growth rates of between 5 and 10 percent.

wefi Reveals Top U.S. Locations for the Best Wi-Fi Connectivity During Summer Travel Season

July 22, 2014 Comments off

wefi Reveals Top U.S. Locations for the Best Wi-Fi Connectivity During Summer Travel Season
Source: wefi

Key travel considerations have changed dramatically as more and more people rely on their mobile devices to stay connected while away from home. With two thirds of Americans planning at least one leisure trip this summer, wefi, the market leader in delivering actionable mobile intelligence and network analytics, today revealed the top U.S. hotels, beaches and airports with the best Wi-Fi connectivity for these road warriors. As evidenced in wefi’s findings, not all destinations provide the same level of connectivity.

wefi collected data from more than 45 million hotspots based on the implementation of its intelligent network selection solution within multiple cable operators throughout the U.S. The metrics are based on a 45-day average of Wi-Fi speeds for each location starting from April 1 to June 15, 2014.

As mobile devices have become more and more essential to people on the road, it’s important to consider places with the best bandwidth connectivity. If traveling by air, consider that the Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Michigan offers the fastest Wi-Fi, closely followed by Denver International Airport in Colorado. For beach-goers, Clearwater Beach, Florida tops the list of beaches with the fastest Wi-Fi, while four of the top nine are located in California.

Marine mammals trace anthropogenic structures at sea

July 22, 2014 Comments off

Marine mammals trace anthropogenic structures at sea
Source: Current Biology

On land, species from all trophic levels have adapted to fill vacant niches in environments heavily modified by humans (e.g. [1] ). In the marine environment, ocean infrastructure has led to artificial reefs, resulting in localized increases in fish and crustacean density [2] . Whether marine apex predators exhibit behavioural adaptations to utilise such a scattered potential resource is unknown. Using high resolution GPS data we show how infrastructure, including wind turbines and pipelines, shapes the movements of individuals from two seal species (Phoca vitulina and Halichoerus grypus). Using state-space models, we infer that these animals are using structures to forage. We highlight the ecological consequences of such behaviour, at a time of unprecedented developments in marine infrastructure.

See: Seals Are Drawn to Offshore Wind Farms (The Atlantic)

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