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Left in the Dark: International Military Operations in Afghanistan

August 18, 2014 Comments off

Left in the Dark: International Military Operations in Afghanistan
Source: Amnesty International

Thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed since 2001 by international forces, and thousands more have been injured. This report examines the record of accountability for civilian deaths caused by international military operations in the five-year period from 2009 to 2013. In particular, it focuses on the performance of the US government in investigating possible war crimes and in prosecuting those suspected of criminal responsibility for such crimes. Its overall finding is that the record is poor.

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U.S. Energy Department to make researchers’ papers free

August 18, 2014 Comments off

U.S. Energy Department to make researchers’ papers free
Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today unveiled its answer to a White House mandate to make the research papers it funds free for anyone to read: a Web portal that will link to full-text papers a year after they’re published. Once researchers are up to speed and submitting their manuscripts, that will mean 20,000 to 30,000 new free papers a year on energy research, physics, and other scientific topics.

Although the plan will expand public access to papers, some onlookers aren’t happy. That’s because the papers will not reside in a central DOE database, but mostly on journal publishers’ websites. Open-access advocates say that will limit what people can do with the papers.

“The DOE’s plan contains some steps in the right direction, but has some serious holes. Most critically, it doesn’t adequately address the reuse rights needed for the public to do more than simply read individual articles,” says Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). (The same gripes will likely apply to the National Science Foundation’s public access plan, which has not yet been issued but is expected to be similar to DOE’s.)

Hat tip: ResearchBuzz

Intellectual Property Underpinnings of Pharmaceutical Innovation: A Primer

August 12, 2014 Comments off

Intellectual Property Underpinnings of Pharmaceutical Innovation: A Primer
Source: American Action Forum

Companies across the U.S. are meeting health challenges head on by investing in time, talent, and materials. U.S. federal law has long protected these endeavors through the intellectual property (IP) regime. Understanding the process of innovation in both health and medicine requires a basic knowledge of three areas: the legal underpinnings of patent law, the economics of patents, and how the two interact within a company. Today, we cannot forget just how important these laws have been in creating and sustaining the technological sectors, especially those where innovation is especially costly. A basic overview of intellectual property rights (IPR) in innovative industries, particularly in medical treatments, is a beginning point to explore where the regime has gotten things right.

The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations & Government Agencies

August 12, 2014 Comments off

The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations & Government Agencies
Source: Green 2.0

The report…is the most comprehensive deport on diversity in the environmental movement. It surveyed 191 environmental non-profits, 74 government environmental agencies, and 28 leading environmental grant making foundations to investigate their gender and racial diversity composition, the majority of which state diversification as a “value.” The study included confidential interviews of 21 environmental leaders from diverse backgrounds and experience.

Report Findings:

1. The Green Ceiling
Despite increasing racial diversity in the United States, the racial composition in environmental organizations and agencies has not broken the 12% to 16% “green ceiling” that has been in place for decades.

2. Unconscious Bias, Discrimination, and Insular Recruiting
Confidential interviews with environmental professionals and survey data highlight alienation and “unconscious bias” as factors hampering recruitment and retention of talented people of color.

3. Lackluster Effort and Disinterest in Addressing Diversity
Efforts to attract and retain talented people of color have been lackluster across the environmental movement.

Free registration required.

Survey: lawyers ready to join in major push to spot and report financial fraud targeting older Americans

August 12, 2014 Comments off

Survey: lawyers ready to join in major push to spot and report financial fraud targeting older Americans (PDF)
Source: Investor Protection Trust (IPT), the Investor Protection Institute (IPI), and the American Bar Association (ABA)

Nine out of 10 practicing attorneys surveyed by the Investor Protection Trust (IPT), the Investor Protection Institute (IPI), and the American Bar Association (ABA) are willing to take part in a new campaign to address the estimated 20 percent of older America ns who have been the victims of investment fraud and financial exploitation.

In releasing the survey findings, the three groups announced that they are launching the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation (EIFFE) Prevention Program Legal. The EIFFE Prevention Program Legal will develop, test, and implement a model national continuing legal education (CLE) program to teach lawyers to: (1) recognize clients’ possible vulnerability to EIFFE due to mild cognitive impairment (MCI); (2) identify EIFFE in their clients; and (3) report suspected instances of EIFFE to appropriate authorities. In June 2010, the Investor Protection Trust released a national survey showing that one out five older Americans are victims of financial swindles.

+ Survey Results (PDF)

Elections Matter 2014

August 12, 2014 Comments off

Elections Matter 2014
Source: Bread for the World Institute
From website:

The elections in 2014 (congressional) and 2016 (congressional and presidential) are vitally important to Bread for the World.

Bread wants to help end hunger by 2030, and to do that, it needs to help build the political will to make hunger a national priority by 2017.

Starting with this year’s elections, Bread hopes it can get a Congress and new president who are behind these goals.

This summer and fall, during the campaigns leading up to the 2014 mid-term congressional elections, Bread is asking its members all over the country to engage all candidates on hunger and poverty issues.

Understanding Public Pension Debt

August 8, 2014 Comments off

Understanding Public Pension Debt
Source: Competitive Enterprise Institute

State government pension debt burdens labor markets and worsens the business climate. To get a clear picture of the extent of this effect around the nation, this paper amalgamates several estimates of states’ pension debts and ranks them from best to worst.

Today, many states face budget crunches due to massive pension debts that have accumulated over the past two decades, often in the billions of dollars. There are several reasons for this.

One reason is legal. In many states, pension payments have stronger legal protections than other kinds of debt. This has made reform extremely difficult, as government employee unions can sue to block any scaling back of generous pension packages.

Then there is the politics. For years, government employee unions have effectively opposed efforts to control the costs of generous pension benefits. Meanwhile, politicians who rely on government unions for electoral support have been reluctant to pursue reform, as they find it much easier to pass the bill to future generations than to anger their union allies.

Another contributing factor has been math—or rather, bad math.

Effective Tax Rates of Oil & Gas Companies: Cashing in on Special Treatment

August 8, 2014 Comments off

Effective Tax Rates of Oil & Gas Companies: Cashing in on Special Treatment
Source: Taxpayers for Common Sense

From 2009 through 2013, large U.S.-based oil and gas companies paid far less in federal income taxes than the statutory rate of 35 percent. Thanks to a variety of special tax provisions, these companies were also able to defer payment of a significant portion of the federal taxes they accrued during this period.

According to their financial statements, 20 of the largest oil and gas companies reported a total of $133.3 billion in U.S. pre-tax income from 2009 through 2013. These companies reported total federal income taxes during this period of $32.1 billion, giving them a federal effective tax rate (ETR) of 24.0 percent. Special provisions in the U.S. tax code allowed these companies to defer payment of more than half of this tax bill. This group of companies actually paid $15.6 billion in income taxes to the federal government during the last five years, equal to 11.7 percent of their U.S. pre-tax income. This measure, the amount of U.S. income tax paid regularly every tax period (i.e. not deferred), is known as the “current” tax rate.

Four of the companies in this study – ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Occidental, and Chevron – account for 84 percent of all the income and paid 85 percent of all the taxes for the entire group. These four had an ETR of 24.4 percent and a current ETR of only 13.3 percent. The smaller firms paid an even smaller share of their tax liability on a current basis. When the top four companies and those with losses are excluded from the analysis, the remaining companies reported a 28.9 percent ETR on U.S. income, but only a 3.7 percent current rate. They deferred over 87 percent of their tax liability.

An Interstate Analysis of Right to Work Laws

August 7, 2014 Comments off

An Interstate Analysis of Right to Work Laws
Source: Competitive Enterprise Institute

The compelling preponderance of evidence suggests there is a substantial, significant, and positive relationship between economic growth in a state and the presence of a right to work (RTW) law.

This paper presents a labor economics analysis of the effect of right to work laws on state economies, and ranks states’ per capita income loss from not having an RTW law. People have been migrating in large numbers from non- RTW states to RTW ones. The evidence suggests that economic growth is greater in RTW states.

Xtreme Eating 2014

August 5, 2014 Comments off

Xtreme Eating 2014
Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest

When we were screening candidates for the first Xtreme Eating awards in 2007, we were shocked to see 1,500-calorie entrées. This year, nearly all of our “winners” hit (or just missed) the 2,000-calorie mark. And a few doozies topped 3,000 calories. You could take half home and still overeat.

The sad truth is that it’s not hard to find Xtreme Eating winners. Virtually every chain has viable contenders. But this year, we’re giving a special XXXtreme Eating award to The Cheesecake Factory. It took three of our nine coveted spots…and, as usual, it could easily have filled all nine. Congrats!

Missing Makers: How to Rebuild America’s Manufacturing Workforce

August 1, 2014 Comments off

Missing Makers: How to Rebuild America’s Manufacturing Workforce (PDF)
Source: Hope Street Group

The U.S. manufacturing workforce is aging rapidly, with half of the existing workforce only 10-15 years away from retirement.1 Yet, American manufacturing employers are struggling to build a pipeline of new workers. Some 600,000 positions are currently unfilled,2 and more than three million additional positions are due to open by 2020.

Meanwhile, the youth unemployment rate remains above 16%, with nearly four million 16-24 year olds looking for but unable to find work.4 Why does this gap continue to exist across many regions, and what challenges are preventing the U.S. education and workforce training systems from addressing these issues? How can manufacturing employers and workforce development practitioners most effectively invest in youth in their regions, so that more young people are aware of, interested in, and on the path to careers in manufacturing?

Hope Street Group and Alcoa Foundation set out to address these questions. In this report, we frame the systemic challenges that currently discourage able young people from entering manufacturing career tracks.

Hat tip: StemConnector.org

Pension Spending Supports 6.2 Million Jobs, $943 Billion in Economic Input

July 31, 2014 Comments off

Pension Spending Supports 6.2 Million Jobs, $943 Billion in Economic Input
Source: National Institute on Retirement Security

A new economic impact study finds that pension benefit expenditures provide important economic support to the economy, including more than $943 billion in total economic output and 6.2 million jobs in the United States.

Pensionomics 2014: Measuring the Economic Impact of Defined Benefit Pension Expenditures reports the national economic impacts of public and private pension plans, as well as the impact of state and local plans on a state-by-state basis. The study measures the economic ripple effect of retiree spending of pension benefit income, which typically is a stable source of income that lasts through retirement.

Why Children are Fleeing Central America

July 31, 2014 Comments off

Why Children are Fleeing Central America (PDF)
Source: Bread for the World Institute

Since last October, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have fled unspeakable conditions and crossed into the United States. Most have come from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. By year’s end, that number is expected to grow to between 70,000 and 90,000. The Department of Homeland Security is preparing for more than 100,000 children to arrive in 2015. The United States is witnessing a humanitarian crisis in this situation.

Many members of Congress are focusing on detention centers and how fast the United States can send these children back to their home countries. Few are asking this question: What are we sending these children back to? Without addressing the root causes of this crisis, such as poverty and violence, this situation will continue. More and more children will be driven to flee their home countries in search of greater educational and economic opportunities, safer and more stable communities, and a path out of hunger.

This crisis is not just about the surge of new arrivals in the United States. It is also about the conditions of poverty, hunger, and violence that force children to leave their homes on a very dangerous and uncertain journey:

• 75 percent of these children are coming from three countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
• More than half of the citizens of Honduras and Guatemala live on less than $4 a day.
• About half of all Guatemalans suffer from moderately or severely stunted growth.
• Honduras has the highest murder rate per capita in the world. It is almost five times that of Mexico and twice that of Detroit.
• Residents of all ages, including children, in these countries are getting caught in gang-related violence.

Use With Care: A Reporter’s Glossary of Loaded Language in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

July 31, 2014 Comments off

Use With Care: A Reporter’s Glossary of Loaded Language in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Source: International Press Institute

IPI glossary designed for journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict available here to download.

The popularity of the handbook has been key for IPI´s decision to release the complete PDF of the handbook containing more than 75 alternative words and phrases.

A print version of the handbook, which is designed to help journalists covering the region, has been distributed to nearly 100 journalists and researchers.

Free registration required to download document.

Debt Settlement Programs Increase Financial Risks to Vulnerable Consumers

July 30, 2014 Comments off

Debt Settlement Programs Increase Financial Risks to Vulnerable Consumers
Source: Center for Responsible Lending

A new report from the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) finds that the debt settlement remains a risky strategy for debt reduction – and often leaves consumers more financially vulnerable.

Debt settlement companies offer the promise of settling a consumer’s debt for a fraction of what they owe. The idea is simple: debt settlement companies offer to negotiate down the outstanding debt (usually from credit cards) owed to a more manageable amount so that a consumer can become debt free. Unfortunately debt settlement carries significant risks that may result in consumers becoming even worse off.

Debt settlement is inherently a risky venture: in order to enroll into debt settlement programs, consumers are required to default on their debt which often results in fees, increased interest rates, and sometimes even lawsuits from creditors. Even after assuming all this risk, consumers are offered no guarantees; in fact, some creditors refuse to negotiate with debt settlement companies at all. Even if a settlement is reached, a consumer unable to keep up with the new settlement arrangement risks falling back into default – and now without the fees paid to the debt settlement company for negotiating the agreement. CRL finds that consumers must settle at least two-thirds of the debt they enroll in a debt settlement program to benefit, a result that many will not achieve.

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.

Mid- and Late-Career Teachers Struggle With Paltry Incomes

July 28, 2014 Comments off

Mid- and Late-Career Teachers Struggle With Paltry Incomes
Source: Center for American Progress

Low teacher pay is not news. Over the years, all sorts of observers have argued that skimpy teacher salaries keep highly qualified individuals out of the profession. One recent study found that a major difference between the education system in the United States and those in other nations with high-performing students is that the United States offers much lower pay to educators.

But for the most part, the conversation around teacher pay has examined entry-level teachers. The goal of this issue brief was to learn more about the salaries of mid- and late-career teachers and see if wages were high enough to attract and keep the nation’s most talented individuals. This research relied on a variety of databases, the results of which are deeply troubling. Our findings include:

  • Mid- and late-career teacher base salaries are painfully low in many states. In Colorado, teachers with a graduate degree and 10 years of experience make less than a trucker in the state. In Oklahoma, teachers with 15 years of experience and a master’s degree make less than sheet metal workers. And teachers in Georgia with 10 years of experience and a graduate degree make less than a flight attendant in the state. (See Appendix for state-by-state data on teacher salaries. We relied on “base teacher” salaries for our data, which typically does not include summer jobs or other forms of additional income.)
  • Teachers with 10 years of experience who are family breadwinners often qualify for a number of federally funded benefit programs designed for families needing financial support. We found that mid-career teachers who head families of four or more in multiple states such as Arizona and North Dakota qualify for several benefit programs, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the School Breakfast and Lunch Program. What’s more, teachers have fewer opportunities to grow their salaries compared to other professions.
  • To supplement their minimal salaries, large percentages of teachers work second jobs. We found that in 11 states, more than 20 percent of teachers rely on the financial support of a second job, and in some states such Maine, that number is as high as 25 percent. In these 11 states, the average base salary for a teacher with 10 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree is merely $39,673—less than a carpenter’s national average salary. (Note that teachers typically have summers off, and the data on teachers who work second jobs do not include any income that a teacher may have earned over the summer.)

Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012

July 28, 2014 Comments off

Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012
Source: American Principles in Action

“Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012″, takes a hard-headed, skeptical, and primarily political look at the lessons Republicans must learn from 2012 in order to build a winning national GOP coalition. It challenges the conventional wisdom that the national GOP’s loss in 2012 was a result of a focus on extremist social issues, which hampered candidates touting a winning economic message.

This document challenges the existing “truce model” and puts forward a case for integrated conservatism. We argue that social issues are winning issues, and that a winning economic message must address the concerns of middle-class voters.

See also: Growth and Opportunity Project (PDF; Republican National Committee)

Post-9/11 vets fight suicide, mental health issues

July 25, 2014 Comments off

Post-9/11 vets fight suicide, mental health issues
Source: Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

The newest generation of combat veterans is struggling with integration into civilian life, confronted by suicidal thoughts, mental-health issues, unemployment and the inability to get timely assessments of their disability claims.

Yet post-9/11 veterans who have used the Department of Veterans Affairs health-care system generally have a favorable impression of the medical services provided, according to a nationwide survey of 2,089 members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The survey puts hard statistics on a variety of pressing issues Iraq and Afghanistan veterans face on the home front, he said.

The survey was conducted during a three-week period early this year, prior to public disclosures of secret wait lists and mismanagement at the Phoenix VA hospital and at facilities across the country.

The survey is the sixth and most comprehensive that the organization has conducted, IAVA Research Director Jackie Maffucci said. The research was conducted online and was composed of about 200 questions, with respondents answering only questions relevant to their experiences.

State and Local Government Workforce: 2014 Trends

July 25, 2014 Comments off

State and Local Government Workforce: 2014 Trends
Source: Center for State & Local Government Excellence

Local and state governments continue their hiring trend although their workforces are still smaller since the 2008 economic downturn; recruitment and retention continue to be challenges; and pressure on benefits continues, particularly health care.

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