Archive for June, 2011

New From the GAO

June 30, 2011 Comments off

New GAO Reports, Correspondences and Testimonies (PDFs)
Source: Government Accountability Office

+ Reports

1.  Race to the Top:  Reform Efforts Under Way and Information Sharing Could Be Improved.  GAO-11-658, June 30.
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2.  Medicaid and CHIP:  Most Physicians Serve Covered Children but Have Difficulty Referring Them for Specialty Care.  GAO-11-624, June 30.
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3.  Defense Centers of Excellence:  Limited Budget and Performance Information on the Center for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.  GAO-11-611, June 30.
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4.  Defense Infrastructure:  The Enhanced Use Lease Program Requires Management Attention.  GAO-11-574, June 30.
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5.  Public Transportation:  Washington Metro Could Benefit from Clarified Board Roles and Responsibilities, Improved Strategic Planning.  GAO-11-660, June 30.
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+ Correspondence

1.  The U.S. Government Is Establishing Procedures for a Procurement Ban against Firms that Sell Iran Technology to Disrupt Communications but Has Not Identified Any Firms.  GAO-11-706R, June 30.

2.  Department of State Overseas Comparability Pay.  GAO-11-772R, June 30.

3.  Military Uniforms:  Issues Related to the Supply of Flame Resistant Fibers for the Production of Military Uniforms.  GAO-11-682R, June 30.

4.  Defense Logistics:  DOD Input Needed on Implementing Depot Maintenance Study Recommendations.  GAO-11-568R, June 30.

+ Testimony

1.  Operational Contract Support:  Actions Needed to Address Contract Oversight and Vetting of Non-U.S. Vendors in Afghanistan, by William Solis, director, defense capabilities and management, before the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.  GAO-11-771T, June 30.
Highlights -

Central America: crime and violence eating up small business profits

June 30, 2011 Comments off

Central America: crime and violence eating up small business profits
Source: World Bank

Crime and violence have gotten so bad in most of Central America — reaching epidemic levels according to World Health Organization criteria — that the Bank realizes development efforts won’t take hold until citizen security improves. Beyond the trauma and suffering of individual victims, crime and violence carry staggering economic costs at the national level –as much as 8 percent of GDP, which is more than what countries typically spend on social programs in this region, according to a recent World Bank report.

This week, Central American governments received more than US$1.5 billion in pledges from the World Bank, the United States and other multilaterals, which no doubt will contribute to build up the region’s defenses against the scourge of crime and violence.

But a lot more needs to be done.

From our perspective and that of many others present at the Conference, rich people in these countries have to be willing to step up to the plate and pay more taxes. Today, Central American countries have the lowest tax rates in the hemisphere.

In an opinion column published by the Guatemalan daily El Periódico, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean Region, Pamela Cox, stressed the need for “Central America’s leaders and wealthiest citizens … to signal their commitment by making additional domestic fiscal efforts.”

Otherwise, the governments’ ability to attend to other social needs will continue to suffer, as security demands require more and more public resources. And, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during her speech at the Conference, “security cannot be funded on the backs of the poor.”

+ Full Report (PDF)

Research Cites 225,000 Lives Lost and US$4 Trillion in Spending on Post-9/11 Wars

June 30, 2011 Comments off

Research Cites 225,000 Lives Lost and US$4 Trillion in Spending on Post-9/11 Wars
Source: Watson Institute for International Studies (Brown University)

Nearly 10 years after the declaration of the War on Terror, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have killed at least 225,000 people, including men and women in uniform, contractors, and civilians. The wars will cost Americans between $3.2 and $4 trillion, including medical care and disability for current and future war veterans, according to a new report by the Eisenhower Research Project at the Watson Institute. If these wars continue, they are on track to require at least another $450 billion in Pentagon spending by 2020.

The Costs of War report by this major multi-university research project reveals costs that are far higher than recognized. Its findings are being released at a critical juncture. As Project Co-Director and Institute Professor Catherine Lutz puts it: “Knowing the actual costs of war is essential as the public, Congress, and the President consider the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and other issues including the deficit, security, public investments, and reconstruction.”

The project has posted its extensive findings, graphically illustrated, at, to spur public debate about America at war.

The Costs of War report, compiled by more than 20 economists, anthropologists, lawyers, humanitarian personnel, and political scientists, is the first comprehensive analysis of this decade of war and its costs – human and economic, direct and indirect, U.S. and international, and often uncounted or undercounted.

The long road to recovering stolen assets… made more navigable

June 30, 2011 Comments off

The long road to recovering stolen assets… made more navigable
Source: World Bank/United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

The recent upheavals in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere have put asset recovery in the spotlight. Indeed, as the citizens of these countries look towards the future, recovering wealth that former public officials are alleged to have acquired illegally remains a main concern.

But as their asset recovery practitioners will soon find out, it is by no means a straightforward process. Corruption, which is estimated to cost the world’s poorest people as much as $40 billion per year, is often a difficult offense to prove. Jurisdictions where these funds are deposited require proof of an offense or a nexus to criminal activity before the assets can be returned to the jurisdiction from which they were stolen.

To help explain why it can be so difficult to recover money that has been lost through corruption, my colleagues and I at the StAR Initiative – a partnership of the World Bank Group and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – consulted with over 50 international asset recovery practitioners to identify the Barriers to Asset Recovery. We found several key obstacles that make it difficult to trace, freeze, recover and return assets lost to corruption and other related offenses:

  • Asset recovery is a complex process. The legal tools and procedures used by jurisdictions are not all the same. Law enforcement, prosecutors and investigating magistrates have to know how to navigate the laws of other countries and be prepared for a lengthy campaign.
  • Not all available tools are used to their full potential. Many practitioners simply do not have the specialized training, skills and experience that would permit them to use asset recovery tools effectively, or to choose the appropriate strategy. Informal assistance – or simply talking to colleagues in another jurisdiction directly without formal mutual legal assistance procedures – is rarely utilized to its full potential. The tools in the United Nations Convention against Corruption, signed by 140 states, are also under used.
  • Trust is essential, but hard to establish. These are often sensitive, high profile cases, so practitioners need to be able to trust their counterparts and believe that they won’t make inappropriate public statements or inhibit the case for political reasons. Trust, however, takes time to build, especially when one isworking with people from different cultures and legal systems, which are halfway across the world. The reality is that often these cases require urgent action to freeze assets before they can be moved.
  • Preventative measures often fail. Anti-money laundering measures that should intercept stolen assets are not fully or effectively implemented. If corrupt leaders and officials never had the chance to deposit stolen assets into a foreign financial system in the first place, there would be no need for recovery!

+ Full Report

Gas Flaring Reductions Avoid 30 Million Tons of Carbon Dioxide Emissions in 2010

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Gas Flaring Reductions Avoid 30 Million Tons of Carbon Dioxide Emissions in 2010
Source: World Bank

Reductions in gas flaring in several countries helped bring down flaring to 134 billion cubic meters (bcm) worldwide in 2010, a 13-bcm drop from 2009, according to the latest satellite estimates. This nine-percent global reduction was achieved even as global crude oil production rose by two million barrels a day over the same period, says the World Bank-led Global Gas Flaring Reduction partnership (GGFR).

The latest drop in 2010 is revealed in new flaring estimates based on satellite data gathered by scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The 13-bcm decline — led by flaring drops of 11.4 bcm in Russia and 1.2 bcm in Kazakhstan — is roughly equivalent to 30 million tons of CO2 emissions, or to taking almost six million cars off the road. These two countries have made important investments in associated gas utilization projects.

Until concerted action to reduce gas flaring began after the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, the practice — associated with oil production — added about 400 million tons of CO2 emissions each year.

+ Estimated Flared Volumes from Satellite Data, 2006-2010 (chart)

FinCEN Attributes Increase in Suspicious Activity Reports Involving Mortgage Fraud to Repurchase Demands

June 30, 2011 Comments off

FinCEN Attributes Increase in Suspicious Activity Reports Involving Mortgage Fraud to Repurchase Demands
Source: Financial Crimes Enforcement Network

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) today, in its First Quarter 2011 Mortgage Loan Fraud (MLF) analysis, reported that the number of MLF suspicious activity reports (SARs) rose to 25,485 up 31 percent from 19,420 in the first quarter of 2010. FinCEN attributes the increase to large mortgage lenders conducting additional reviews after receiving demands to repurchase poorly performing mortgage loans. In the first quarter of 2011, 86 percent of MLF SARs reported activities which occurred more than two years prior to the filing of the SARs.

The analysis also found that California dominated the top mortgage fraud rankings. Miami dropped to the sixth most reported area after five years in the top two ranks.

+ Full Report (PDF)

HIV/AIDS At 30: A Public Opinion Perspective

June 30, 2011 Comments off

HIV/AIDS At 30: A Public Opinion Perspective
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

As the HIV/AIDS epidemic marks its thirtieth year, the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted its eighth large-scale national survey of Americans on HIV/AIDS.

Key findings include:

  • Black Americans, and particularly young blacks, express much higher levels of concern about HIV infection than whites.
  • Reported HIV testing rates are flat since 1997, including among some key groups at higher risk.
  • Thirty years into the epidemic, there is a declining sense of national urgency and visibility of HIV/AIDS.
  • At the same time, after nearly a decade of decline, the share of Americans who say they are personally “very concerned” about becoming infected ticked up for the first time in this year’s survey.
  • Many Americans still hold attitudes that may stigmatize people with HIV/AIDS, but such reported attitudes have declined in recent years.
  • Despite continuing economic problems, more than half of Americans support increased funding for HIV/AIDS, and fewer than one in ten say the federal government spends too much in this area.
  • Media, which includes radio, television, newspapers and online sources, is the top information source on HIV across racial/ethnic groups and for younger and older adults alike.
  • Three-quarters of Americans could not name an individual who stands out as a national leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and no person who was mentioned makes it into double digits.

Geographic Differences in the Relative Price of Healthy Foods

June 30, 2011 Comments off

Geographic Differences in the Relative Price of Healthy Foods
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service

Although healthy foods can be affordable, if less healthy foods are cheaper, individuals may have an economic incentive to consume a less healthful diet. Using the Quarterly Food-at-Home Price Database, we explore whether a select set of healthy foods (whole grains, dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, whole fruit, skim and 1% milk, fruit juice, and bottled water) are more expensive than less healthy alternatives. We find that not all healthy foods are more expensive than less healthy alternatives; skim and 1% milk are less expensive than whole and 2% milk and bottled water is generally less expensive than carbonated nonalcoholic drinks. We also find considerable geographic variation in the relative price of healthy foods. This price variation may contribute to geographic variation in diet and health outcomes.

+ Summary (PDF)
+ Full Report (PDF)

Why Have Food Commodity Prices Risen Again?

June 30, 2011 Comments off

Why Have Food Commodity Prices Risen Again?
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service

The report describes the factors that have contributed to the large and rapid increase in agricultural prices during the past year. The report focuses particularly on food commodity prices—which have risen 60 percent since June 2010.

+ Full Report (PDF)

High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09): A First Look at Fall 2009 9th-Graders

June 30, 2011 Comments off

High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09): A First Look at Fall 2009 9th-Graders
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

This report features initial findings from the base year of a new longitudinal study that started with a nationally representative cohort of ninth-graders in the fall of 2009 and will follow these students through postsecondary education and the world of work. The base year data focus on students’ transitions into high school, especially their decisions about courses and plans for postsecondary education and careers. The HSLS:09 study captures these decisions, plans, expectations, and activities generally but also specifically in math and science.

Findings include the news that half of America’s ninth-graders are taking algebra 1 (51%) and 22% are taking geometry. About 86% of ninth-graders are proficient in understanding algebraic expressions based on their HSLS:09 math assessment scores, but just 18% are proficient at understanding systems of equations and 9% are proficient at understanding linear functions, both of which are more advanced topics within algebra. Of students whose parents hold a master’s degree or higher, 44% are in the top quintile of math performance and 5% in the bottom quintile. Of students whose parents have earned a high school diploma or equivalent, 24% are in the bottom quintile of performance on the assessment and 15% are in the top quintile.

At this age, about 22% of students did not report any educational expectations, while 39% report expecting to earn a graduate or professional degree. More female ninth-graders than male ninth-graders expect to obtain a graduate or professional degree (44% versus 35%). More socioeconomically advantaged ninth-graders expect to earn a graduate or professional degree than their peers in the lowest socioeconomic stratum (56% versus 27%). Over half – 53% of Asian students and 52% of Black students – report that they definitely can complete college, compared to 40% of Hispanic students and 49% of white students who report the same confidence.

+ Full Report (PDF)

What Do Americans Think About Federal Transportation Tax Options? Results From Year 2 of a National Survey

June 30, 2011 Comments off

What Do Americans Think About Federal Transportation Tax Options? Results From Year 2 of a National Survey
Source: Mineta Transportation Institute

This report summarizes the results of a national random-digit-dial public opinion poll that asked 1,516 respondents if they would support various tax options for raising federal transportation revenues. The 11 specific tax options tested were variations on raising the federal gas tax rate, creating a new mileage tax, and creating a new federal sales tax. In addition, the survey collected standard socio-demographic data, some minimal travel behavior data, and attitudinal data about how respondents view the quality of their local transportation system and their priorities for government spending on transportation in their state. All of this information is used to assess support levels for the tax options among different population subgroups.

The survey results show that a majority of Americans would support higher taxes for transportation—under certain conditions. For example, a gas tax increase of 10¢ per gallon to improve road maintenance was supported by 62% of respondents, whereas support levels dropped to just 24% if the revenues were to be used more generally to maintain and improve the transportation system. Other variants on a gas tax that received at least 50% support were increases of 10¢ per gallon with the revenues dedicated either to projects reducing accidents and improving safety or projects to “add more modern, technologically advanced systems.” For tax options where the revenues were to be spent for undefined transportation purposes, support levels varied considerably by what kind of tax would be imposed, with a sales tax much more popular than either a gas tax increase or a new mileage tax.

A central goal of the survey was to compare public support for two alternative versions of a new mileage tax and eight versions of a gas tax increase. All variations on the two taxes increased support over that for the base case of each (a flat-rate mileage tax of 1¢ per mile and a 10¢ gas tax increase proposed without any additional detail). For example, varying the mileage tax by the vehicle’s pollution level increased support by 14 percentage points. For the gas tax, most notably, dedicating the tax proceeds to maintaining streets, roads, and highways increased support by 38 percentage points.

+ Full Report (PDF)

Report: Women of Tomorrow

June 30, 2011 Comments off

Report: Women of Tomorrow
Source: Nielsen

Women around the world are expanding beyond traditional roles to influence decisions in the home, in business and in politics, creating a massive opportunity for marketers to better connect them with the products they buy, the media they engage with and the technologies they use to do so.

For a new report, Women of Tomorrow, Nielsen surveyed women across generations and from both developed and emerging economies, and while women across the world don’t necessarily agree on how to, for example, utilize increasing incomes, one sentiment prevails: women everywhere believe their roles are changing for the better, and in emerging economies, women are confident that this trend will continue and create opportunities for future generations.

Opportunities compared to your mother at your age and for your daughter in the future

But how can marketers effectively reach women in this changing climate? The answer is, it depends.

Mothers in developed markets are heavy internet users and rely on texting and email to communicate. The same is true for their daughters. They are likely to take to the Web in search of promotions and discounts, and buying products with good value is important. In contrast, mothers in emerging economies rely more heavily on television for advice as to what to buy.

Across generations, differences in shopping and media are most apparent. Young women are the most tech savvy, and are most likely to be influenced by media, regardless of its form. Mothers, on the other hand, are more likely to take planned shopping trips and seek value through promotions and discounts.

Free registration required to download full report.

For the Public’s Health: Revitalizing Law and Policy to Meet New Challenges

June 29, 2011 Comments off

For the Public’s Health: Revitalizing Law and Policy to Meet New Challenges
Source: Institute of Medicine
From press release:

Because strong evidence indicates that policies beyond the health sector have substantial effects on people’s health, all levels of U.S. government should adopt a structured approach to considering the health effects of any major legislation or regulation, says a new report by the IOM. In addition, federal and state policymakers should review and revise public health laws so that they adequately address current health challenges.

”The law has been an essential factor for improving the public’s health through policies such as decreasing tobacco use, increasing road safety, and ensuring the greater healthfulness of our food and water,” said Marthe Gold, chair of the committee that wrote the report and Arthur C. Logan Professor and Chair of Community Health and Social Medicine, Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, City College of New York, New York City. “Our report recommends several actions that will ensure that federal, state, and local public health agencies make full use of a broad array of proven legal tools that can improve population health.”

New From the GAO

June 29, 2011 Comments off

New GAO Reports, Correspondence and Testimony (PDF)
Source: Government Accountability Office

+ Reports

1.  Recovery Act:  Funding Used for Transportation Infrastructure Projects, but Some Requirements Proved Challenging.  GAO-11-600, June 29.
Highlights -
Podcast available -

2.  Recovery Act:  Funds Supported Many Water Projects, and Federal and State Monitoring Shows Few Compliance Problems.  GAO-11-608, June 29.
Highlights -
Podcast available -

3.  Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:  IRS Should Expand Its Strategic Approach to Implementation.  GAO-11-719, June 29.

4.  Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation:  More Strategic Approach to Contracting Still Needed.  GAO-11-588, June 29.
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5.  Diplomatic Security:  Expanded Missions and Inadequate Facilities Pose Critical Challenges to Training Efforts.  GAO-11-460, June 1.
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6.  Department of Defense:  Further Actions Needed to Institutionalize Key Business System Modernization Management Controls.  GAO-11-684, June 29.
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+ Correspondence

1.  Medicare:  Issues for Manufacturer-Level Competitive Bidding for Durable Medical Equipment.  GAO-11-337R, May 31.

+ Testimony

1.  Diplomatic Security:  Expanded Missions and Inadequate Facilities Pose Critical Challenges to Training Efforts, by Jess T. Ford, director, international affairs and trade, before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.  GAO-11-780T, June 29.

+ Presentation By The Comptroller General

1.  ”Maximizing DOD’s Potential to Achieve Greater Efficiencies and Improve Business Operations,” by Gene L. Dodaro, comptroller general of the United States, before the DOD Performance Symposium, in Lansdowne, Virginia.  GAO-11-799CG, June 29, 2011

Infidelity in Heterosexual Couples: Demographic, Interpersonal, and Personality-Related Predictors of Extradyadic Sex

June 29, 2011 Comments off

Infidelity in Heterosexual Couples: Demographic, Interpersonal, and Personality-Related Predictors of Extradyadic Sex (PDF)
Source: Archives of Sexual Behavior (via Kinsey Institute)

This study aimed to assess the relative importance of demographic, interpersonal, and personality factors in predicting sexual infidelity in heterosexual couples. A total of 506 men (M age = 32.86 years, SD = 10.60) and 412 women (M age = 27.66 years, SD = 8.93), who indicated they were in a monogamous sexual relationship, completed a series of questionnaires, including the Sexual Excitation/Inhibition (SES/SIS) scales and the Mood and SexualityQuestionnaire, and answered questions about, among others, religiosity, education, income, relationship and sexual satisfaction, and sexual compatibility. Almost one-quarter of men (23.2%) and 19.2% of women indicated that they had ‘‘cheated’’ during their current relationship (i.e., engaged in sexual interactions with someone other than their partner that could jeopardize, or hurt, their relationship). Among men, a logistic regression analysis, explaining 17% of the variance, revealed that a higher propensity of sexual excitation (SES) and sexual inhibition due to ‘‘the threat of performance concerns’’ (SIS1), a lower propensity for sexual inhibition due to ‘‘the threat of performance consequences’’(SIS2), and an increased tendency to engage in regretful sexual behavior during negative affective states were all significant predictors of infidelity. In women, a similar regression analysis explained 21% of the variance in engaging in infidelity. In addition to SIS1 and SIS2, for which the same patterns were found as for men, low relationship happiness and low compatibility in terms of sexual attitudes and values were predictive of infidelity. The findings of this study suggest that, for both men and women, sexual personality characteristics and, for women, relationship factors are more relevant to the prediction of sexual infidelity than demographic variables such as marital status and religiosity.

IMF: Concluding Statement of the 2011 Article IV Mission to The United States of America

June 29, 2011 Comments off

IMF: Concluding Statement of the 2011 Article IV Mission to The United States of America (PDF)
Source: International Monetary Fund

Policies must strike the right balance between exiting from extraordinary support and sustaining the recovery amid renewed headwinds. Fiscal policy consolidation needs to proceed as debt dynamics are unsustainable and losing fiscal credibility would be extremely damaging. However, the pace and composition of adjustment should be attuned to the cycle, within a politically-backed strategy that raises medium-term revenues and addresses longterm expenditure pressures. The deficit reduction proposed in the February budget could be too front-loaded given the cyclical weakness and, at the same time, insufficient to stabilize the debt by mid-decade. Current monetary policy accommodation, including through Fed asset holdings, will likely remain appropriate for quite some time, unless inflation prospects change significantly, in either direction. Timely and thorough financial reform implementation should continue.

High Rates of Contraceptive Discontinuation Highlight Need for Stronger Family Planning Services in Developing World

June 29, 2011 Comments off

High Rates of Contraceptive Discontinuation Highlight Need for Stronger Family Planning Services in Developing World
Source: Guttmacher Institute

In six diverse developing countries, more than four in 10 women discontinue use of their method within one year, according to a study by Sian Curtis of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, et al., published in the June issue of International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Data from 1999–2003 Demographic and Health Surveys from Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Kazakhstan, Kenya, the Philippines and Zimbabwe indicate that contraceptive discontinuation rates ranged from 20% in Zimbabwe to 48% in Bangladesh and the Dominican Republic. In every country, with the exception of Kazakhstan, the top three reasons for discontinuation were the desire to get pregnant, contraceptive failure and side effects.

To explore how fertility desires contribute to stopping contraceptive use, the researchers examined women’s attitudes toward pregnancies following discontinuation for reasons other than a desire to have a child. The proportion of births reported as intended following contraceptive failure ranged from 16% in Bangladesh to 54% in Kazakhstan, while the proportion of such births following discontinuation because of side effects ranged from 37% in Kenya to 51% in Kazakhstan.

Because relatively high proportions of births were reported as intended following contraceptive failure or discontinuation for reasons other than wanting to get pregnant (for example, side effects), Curtis et al. suggest that ambivalent fertility desires are an important factor in contraceptive discontinuation. In addition, older age, having fewer than five living children, and longer durations between contraceptive discontinuation and pregnancy were associated with reporting births as intended.

In all countries except Kazakhstan, 71–84% of women who became pregnant while using a contraceptive method and 56–63% of women who gave birth after discontinuing use because of side effects reported the birth as unintended. According to the researchers, increasing the proportion of couples adopting a contraceptive method who continue to use it successfully or switch to another method is a critical element in preventing unwanted births and reducing the need for induced abortions. Curtis et al. conclude that reducing unintended pregnancy will require identifying women who strongly want to avoid a pregnancy and finding ways to help them maintain contraceptive use.

+ Full Paper (PDF)

Combined effects of heat waves and droughts on avian communities across the conterminous United States

June 29, 2011 Comments off

Combined effects of heat waves and droughts on avian communities across the conterminous United States
Source: U.S. Forest Service

Increasing surface temperatures and climatic variability associated with global climate change are expected to produce more frequent and intense heat waves and droughts in many parts of the world. Our goal was to elucidate the fundamental, but poorly understood, effects of these extreme weather events on avian communities across the conterminous United States. Specifically, we explored: (1) the effects of timing and duration of heat and drought events, (2) the effects of jointly occurring drought and heat waves relative to these events occurring in isolation, and (3) how effects vary among functional groups related to nest location and migratory habit, and among ecoregions with differing precipitation and temperature regimes. Using data from remote sensing, meteorological stations, and the North American Breeding Bird Survey, we used mixed effects models to quantify responses of overall and functional group abundance to heat waves and droughts (occurring alone or in concert) at two key periods in the annual cycle of birds: breeding and post-fledging. We also compared responses among species with different migratory and nesting characteristics, and among 17 ecoregions of the conterminous United States. We found large changes in avian abundances related to 100-year extreme weather events occurring in both breeding and post-fledging periods, but little support for an interaction among time periods. We also found that jointly-, rather than individually-occurring heat waves and droughts were both more common and more predictive of abundance changes. Declining abundance was the only significant response to post-fledging events, while responses to breeding period events were larger but could be positive or negative. Negative responses were especially frequent in the western U.S., and among ground-nesting birds and Neotropical migrants, with the largest single-season declines (36%) occurring among ground-nesting birds in the desert Southwest. These results indicate the importance of functional traits, timing, and geography in determining avian responses to weather extremes. Because dispersal to other regions appears to be an important avian response, it may be essential to maintain habitat refugia in a more climatically variable future.

+ Full Paper (PDF)

Adolescent Substance Use in the U.S.

June 29, 2011 Comments off

Adolescent Substance Use in the U.S.
Source: National Center for Children in Poverty

Adolescence is an important period of physical, social, psychological, and cognitive growth. No longer children and not yet adults, adolescents make significant choices about their health and develop attitudes and health behaviors that continue into adulthood. Substance use disorders among adolescents can impede the attainment of important developmental milestones, including the development of autonomy, the formation of intimate interpersonal relationships, and general integration into adult society. 1 Similarly, the use of alcohol and illicit substances by youth often leads to adverse health outcomes. 2

Because heightened peer influence and a tendency towards risk taking are normal developmental changes in adolescence, experimentation with substances during this period is common. However, using drugs and alcohol at a young age increases the risk of dependency and addiction, 3 and early onset of drinking increases the likelihood of alcohol-related injuries, motor vehicle crash involvement, unprotected intercourse, and interpersonal violence. 4

The more risk an adolescent is exposed to, the more likely it is he or she will abuse substances. 5 Some risk factors, such as peer influence, may be more powerful during adolescence, and likewise some protective factors, such as a strong sense of school belonging and a meaningful positive adult presence, can have a greater positive impact during this period. An important goal of substance abuse prevention is to reduce risk and increase protective factors in the lives of all adolescents, and particularly among disadvantaged youth. 6

Class Size: What Research Says and What it Means for State Policy

June 29, 2011 Comments off

Class Size: What Research Says and What it Means for State Policy
Source: Brookings Institution

Class size is one of the small number of variables in American K-12 education that are both thought to influence student learning and are subject to legislative action. Legislative mandates on maximum class size have been very popular at the state level. In recent decades, at least 24 states have mandated or incentivized class-size reduction (CSR).

The current fiscal environment has forced states and districts to rethink their CSR policies given the high cost of maintaining small classes. For example, increasing the pupil/teacher ratio in the U.S. by one student would save at least $12 billion per year in teacher salary costs alone, which is roughly equivalent to the outlays of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the federal government’s largest single K-12 education program.

The substantial expenditures required to sustain smaller classes are justified by the belief that smaller classes increase student learning. We examine “what the research says” about whether class-size reduction has a positive impact on student learning and, if it does, by how much, for whom, and under what circumstances. Despite there being a large literature on class-size effects on academic achievement, only a few studies are of high enough quality and sufficiently relevant to be given credence as a basis for legislative action.

+ Full Paper (PDF)


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