Celldrunk driving

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) promotes the knowledge concerning the characteristics of humans and their interaction with systems and devises as operators, maintainers, or users. HFES advocates:
systematic use of such knowledge to achieve compatibility in the design of interactive systems of people, machines, and environments to ensure their effectiveness, safety, and ease of performance.
Recently published in the Society's journal, Human Factors, a paper by researchers at the University of Utah, led by David Strayer, concluded that, "both handheld and hands-free cell phones impaired driving, with no significant difference in the degree of impairment."

The extent of the distraction was determined in several of the statistical analyses. As noted in the press release, "One showed cell phone users were 5.36 times more likely to get in an accident than undistracted drivers." The researchers determined that the conversation as well as the manipulation of the cell phone contributed to the seriousness of impairment.
"We found that people are as impaired when they drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit" of 0.08 percent, which is the minimum level that defines illegal drunken driving in most U.S. states, says study co-author Frank Drews, an assistant professor of psychology. "If legislators really want to address driver distraction, then they should consider outlawing cell phone use while driving."
A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver (June 2006, pdf, 11 pages/1.1 MB)

related FR posts:

Photo Credit: Jim Moulin


Retirement - women continue losing out

As reported in the Dallas Morning News June 17, women who on average earn only 76% of what men earn continue their economic disadvantage into retirement. The median annual income of older women is half that of older men. Not only do women earn less, caregiving for children or parents may require them to stop working or to take flexible jobs with lower pay and few benefits. Women live longer too, making them "especially vulnerable during retirement."

The article quoted Paul Hodge, chairman of Harvard's Global Generations Policy Institute: "Unless there are dramatic policy shifts, boomer women, particularly minority women, will find retirement a never-ending struggle." The Institute recently released an extensive study, Baby Boomer Women: Secure Futures or Not?

The Dallas article also cited the director of the Older Women's League who believes, "The most important reforms will come in Social Security; 29 percent of unmarried older women depend on it as their only source of income."


States v. spyware

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) released a report yesterday on federal and state laws being used in the battle against spyware. While the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) have taken the lead in prosecuting such cases, CDT sees great potential in states to take action against the menace of spyware:
The states are in a unique position to make a great impact in the broader spyware fight. With a relatively small investment in consumer outreach and technical training, states can contribute towards broadening and diversifying the pool of law enforcement officials who are actively combating the spyware problem. CDT encourages more states to join in by taking the following steps:

1. Establish consumer complaint Web sites where computer users can submit complaints about suspected spyware.

2. Establish or support computer forensic capabilities so that consumer protection enforcement agencies can investigate and verify complaints of spyware and trace responsibility.

3. Train investigators and prosecutors in identifying the attributes of spyware that violate existing laws.
In easy-to-read tables, the report summarizes FTC, state, and federal spyware cases.

In the state cases:

New York settled a case in 2005 and has one case pending, under its General Business Law §§349-350 and its Executive Law §63(12).

Texas has a case pending against Sony under its Consumer Protection Against Computer Spyware Act, Business and Commerce Code, §48.001 (p. 5) et seq.

Washington filed its first suit in January under its new Computer Spyware Act, chapter 19.270, RCW. Three defendants (Chen, Preston, and Traub) have settled.

Spyware Enforcement (pdf, 248KB, 16p.)


Opportunities wanted

What possible initiatives could increase volunteerism among retiring citizens? Who is volunteering today and who is most likely to volunteer in the future? During the coming two decades, when the growing number of retirees "offers an unprecedented chance to tap into a large base of potential volunteers," understanding the nature of current volunteers could help shape policies and programs to increase volunteerism among older adults.

The Urban Institute in its series, Perspectives on Productive Aging, released in May a brief suggesting, "Policymakers should gauge the value and potential growing demand for more volunteer opportunities as society ages. Initiatives that target older adults with low rates of volunteering could yield some big payoffs." The authors feel that government, by examing the religious, economic, health, and educational factors of current volunteers, could better provide the volunteer opportunites that "enhance the health and wellbeing of older adults and create societal value."
...recent funding for these programs generally has declined in real terms as they compete with other government priorities. Instead of cutting funding, Congress should consider the value of expanding these and other volunteer opportunities as boomers approach their retirement years.
Older Adults Engaged as Volunteers (May 2006, pdf, 8 pages/92 kB)


Pay to play faster?

"Network neutrality"--or, more precisely, "Internet neutrality"--is perhaps the most prominent and contentious issue in Internet and telecommunications policy today.
Thus begins a paper issued by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), "a public policy organization dedicated to promoting the democratic potential of today's open, decentralized global Internet." Net neutrality means equal access to the Internet, regardless of ability to pay more for greater bandwidth or high speed. In a press release yesterday, CDT announced the publication of this paper which calls for "legislation to preserve the essential neutrality and openness of the Internet, while leaving broadband network providers free to experiment with non-neutral arrangements elsewhere on their networks."

In the course of its study, CDT consulted with different stakeholders on this issue and commissioned a separate paper by Daniel Weitzner, who wrote:
Service-level pricing is widespread and is no threat to neutrality, provided each user (endpoint) on the network can chose [sic] the level of services appropriate to its needs and provided that many-to-many, end-to-end traffic flow remains possible.

Preserving the Essential Internet (pdf, 216KB, 12p.)

The Neutral Internet: An Information Architecture for Open Societies (pdf, 440KB, 17p.), by Daniel Weitzner of the MIT CSAIL Decentralized Information Group (DIG)


Universal Service Fund

The Universal Service Fund (USF) was mandated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to further the federal goal of providing universal service in telecommunications to U.S. residents regardless of income or geography. USF matters because it is funded by payments from telephone companies which can, and do, pass this cost on to their customers. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently issued a paper on increased spending in USF's High-Cost Program which serves consumers in rural areas. This program's expenses have increased more than 50 percent since FY2000 to about $7 billion.

The High Cost Program is one of four that USF supports. The others are: the Low-Income Program, the Schools and Libraries Program, and the Rural Health Care Program.

The Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service makes recommendations to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on USF matters.

Factors That May Increase Future Spending from the Universal Service Fund (pdf, 900KB, 48p.), June 2006

Related CBO report:

Financing Universal Telephone Service (pdf, 504KB, 34p.), March 2005

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Crisis in emergency care

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) will hold a series of workshops in different sections of the country to disseminate findings of their study on the state of the emergency health system in the U.S. Engaging the public and stakeholder groups in the discussion, IOM hopes to provide a forum to explore the implications, continuing needs and implementations issues and strategies of the emergency health system's future.
Despite the lifesaving feats performed every day by emergency departments and ambulance services, the nation's emergency medical system as a whole is overburdened, underfunded, and highly fragmented, says this series of three reports from the Institute of Medicine.
Convened in 2003, the IOM's Committee on the Future of Emergency Care in the United States Health System examined the state of emergency care in the U.S. "to create a vision for the future of emergency care, including trauma care, and to make recommendations to help the nation achieve that vision." Their findings were published in three reports this month:
  1. Hospital-Based Emergency Care: At the Breaking Point explores the changing role of the hospital emergency department and describes the national epidemic of overcrowded emergency departments and trauma centers.
  2. Emergency Medical Services At the Crossroads describes the development of EMS systems over the last forty years and the fragmented system that exists today.
  3. Emergency Care for Children: Growing Pains describes the unique challenges of emergency care for children.
All three reports are available from The National Academies Press (NAP) in Open Book format.



Foster care costs

Costs for adoption and foster care programs are expected to rise from $6 billion in FY2003 to $8 billion in FY2008, according to a study issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) yesterday. Federal aid to help states pay for these programs increased 7% between FY2000 and FY2004 from $2.5 to $2.6 billion. The programs are authorized by Title IV-E of the Social Security Act and administered by the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

GAO found that 80% of the increase could be attributed to six states, with California accounting for 31% of the total. The study reviewed spending in 11 states and found that different methods for identifiying eligible children and staff costs and uneven compliance with criteria for reporting costs or interpretation of criteria have made HHS oversight difficult.

FOSTER CARE AND ADOPTION ASSISTANCE: Federal Oversight Needed to Safeguard Funds and Ensure Consistent Support for States' Administrative Costs, GAO-06-649, June 15, 2006
     Full report (pdf, 1.7MB, 54p.)
     Highlights (pdf,356KB, 1p.)
     Abstract (html)

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Requests by the Hawaii State Legislature, 2006

This publication sets forth all of the requests made by the Hawaii State Legislature during the Regular Session of 2006 to agencies and officials of the federal, state and county governments and of quasi-public and private agencies. These requests are contained in acts enacted by the Legislature or bills passed which have yet to be approved by the Governor. These acts or bills include specific requests for submission of information back to the Legislature excluding annual and other reports requested on an indefinite basis. These requests are also contained in resolutions adopted by the Senate or House of Representatives or by the whole legislature. Dates by which reports and other responses are expected are indicated when specifically set by the Legislature. The names of the agencies involved in the conduct of a study or the execution of a request are underscored.

For the reader's convenience these legislative requests are also grouped together by agencies, as well as by subject matter.

Requests By The Hawaii State Legislature To Agencies And Officials Of Federal, State And County Governments And Quasi-Public And Private Agencies
(June 2006, pdf, 158 pages/607 kB)



Northwestern Hawaiian Islands proclaimed national monument

Under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906, today President Bush proclaimed the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument. The White House published a press release of the proceedings:
As a marine national monument, the waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will receive our nation's highest form of marine environmental protection. We will protect a precious natural resource. We will show our respect for the cultural and historical importance of this area. And we will create an important place for research and learning about how we can be good stewards of our oceans and our environment.
Senator Akaka, Congressman Case, Congressman Abercrombie, and Governor Lingle were present to witness President Bush sign the proclamation.

As reported in a previous FR post, the Islands and their protection have been a source of confrontation between select fishing and many conservation parties in Hawaii. As a national monument, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will now receive added federal protection.
Within the boundaries of the monument, we will prohibit unauthorized passage of ships; we will prohibit unauthorized recreational or commercial activity; we will prohibit any resource extraction or dumping of waste, and over a five-year period, we will phase out commercial fishing, as well. For seabirds and sea life, this unique region will be a sanctuary for them to grow and to thrive. And for the American people, it will be a place that honors our responsibility to protect our natural resources.
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument: A Commitment To Good Stewardship Of Our Natural Resources (NOAA, pdf, 4 pages/70 kB)

photo, Nihoa caves © James Watt, NOAA

States boost renewable energy

In a press release yesterday, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change announced their publication of Race to the Top: The Expanding Role of State Renewable Energy Policy (pdf, 756 KB, 48p.) by Barry Rabe of the University of Michigan:
States are using increasingly aggressive and ambitious Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in order to spur economic development and create a reliable and diversified supply of electricity, as well as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conventional pollutants. As of mid 2006, 22 states and the District of Columbia have implemented an RPS; well over half of the American public now lives in a state in which an RPS is in operation.
The report presents case studies of five states: Texas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Nevada. The author found "an unusually high degree of bipartisan support and rapid expansion of RPSs at the state level. Economic development and job creation also emerge as drivers in virtually every state."

See also:

Greenhouse & Statehouse: The Evolving State Government Role in Climate Change by Barry Rabe, (pdf, 288KB, 53p., from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change), November 2002

The Impact of State Clean Energy Fund Support for Utility-Scale Renewable Energy Projects by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA), (pdf, 360KB, 9p., from the Berkeley Lab), May 2006

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) web page on Renewable Energy

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Social security - long term

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has updated its long-term (100-year) projections for Social Security. From its June 2006 report:
At the present time, Social Security revenues are greater than outlays, but as the baby-boom generation continues to age, outlays will grow substantially faster than revenues. CBO projects that outlays will begin to exceed revenues in 2019 and that the Social Security trust funds will be exhausted in 2046.
CBO's projections of benefit levels indicate that future beneficiaries will receive higher retirement benefits--and pay higher Social Security taxes--than current beneficiaries do, even after adjustments for inflation and for the reductions that occur after the trust funds are exhausted. However, those benfits will represent a smaller percentage of their preretirement earnings than is the case now.
Updated Long-Term Projections for Social Security, (pdf, 480KB, 26p.), June 2006

CBO first released long-term projections in June 2004 and updated them in March 2005:

The Outlook for Social Security (pdf, 1.2MB, 49p.), June 2004

Updated Long-Term Projections for Social Security
(pdf, 936KB, 16p.) (also available in html), March 2005

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Strong expectations

Following disasters the public expects an effective nonprofit sector working with and supporting a strong state response. The Urban Institute cosponsored with the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations of Harvard University the seminar, "Charities' Response to Disasters: Expectations and Realities," which addressed:
expectations of the charitable sector; the real capacity of the sector; lessons from recent disasters, mainly September 11 and the 2005 hurricanes; and the alignment of expectations with the sector's capacity.
They focused on the perceptions of three groups: the donating public, the government, and the press. Attendees felt the complexities of voluntary organizations, their unavoidable expenses and the reality of the local government strengths and weaknesses greatly affected the reality of response and relief, contributing to considerable public misperceptions of disaster relief charities and efforts.
Participants noted the nonprofit sector functions most effectively as an adjunct to a strong state. The state response was strong after September 11, and the nonprofit sector tried to work alongside the government as well as fill in the gaps the government left behind, both short and long term. With Katrina, in contrast, the immediate state response was weak, and the nonprofit sector had neither the organizational structure nor the resources to meet immediate needs. Yet the public expectation was that they could and should.
After Katrina: Public Expectation and Charities' Response
(May 30, 2006, pdf, 37 pages/ 2.1 MB)


Out of sight, out of mind

Dangerous conditions of confinement; labor and management challenges in an institutional culture; lax oversight and accountability; flaws in the available knowledge and data about violence and abuse : four areas of concern covered in a report by the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons. The Commission's findings and recommendations were released Thursday and made available on their web site. (It is also possible to register to receive email updates about the work of the Commission and its findings.)

The non-partisan Commission is co-chaired by former United States Attorney General Nicholas de B. Katzenbach and the Honorable John Gibbons, former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and staffed by and funded through the Vera Institute of Justice. FR will report more at a later date on Vera whose mission includes:
innovative, affordable programs that often grow into self-sustaining organizations, studies social problems and current responses, and provides practical advice and assistance to government officials in New York and around the world.
Reaching consensus on controversial issues, the diverse Commission stated:
There are nearly 5,000 adult prisons and jails in the United States - no two exactly alike. Some of them are unraveling or barely surviving, while others are succeeding and working in the public's interest. There is no reason why health and safety should be limited to only some correctional facilities and no reason why even the best institutions cannot make a larger contribution to public safety and public health...it influences the safety, health, and prosperity of us all.

Confronting Confinement, a report on violence and abuse in U.S. jails and prisons.
Full report (pdf, 126 pages / 8 MB)
Summary of Findings and Recommendations (pdf, 7 pages / 123 kB)
Commonly Asked Questions about the Report (pdf, 3 pages / 99 kB)


Wastewater down

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published a study on the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 1987, amendments to the Clean Water Act created the CWSRF program to provide low-interest financing to states for water quality projects. States can use their CWSRFs for wastewater infrastructure, nonpoint source pollution control, and estuaries. Since 1987, an overwhelming 96 percent of these funds ($50 billion) has gone to wastewater treatment. In light of states' flexibility in spending CWSRFs, GAO examined how effectively the funds have been allocated.

CLEAN WATER: How States Allocate Revolving Loan Funds and Measure Their Benefits, GAO-06-579, June 5, 2006
     Full report (pdf, 4MB, 54p.)
     Highlights (pdf, 44KB, 1p.)
     Abstract (html)

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Surf's up!

The devastation caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 raised awareness and concerns about how well U.S. coastal communities are prepared for a similar event. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today issued a report on federal and state efforts to mitigate tsunami risks and impacts.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the lead agency for tsunami detection and warning. The GAO report is based on NOAA's determination that the Pacific coast states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, face the highest tsunami risk. The five states, together with NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) participate in the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP). For this study, GAO visited those states and twelve at-risk communities, two of which were in Hawaii - Hilo and Honolulu.

Hawaii also plays an important role for tsunamis as the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, one of two tsunami warning centers operated by NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS). is located in Ewa Beach. The other center, the West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning Center is in Palmer, Alaska.

U.S. TSUNAMI PREPAREDNESS: Federal and State Partners Collaborate to Help Communities Reduce Potential Impacts, but Significant Challenges Remain, GAO-06-519, June 5, 2006
     Full report (pdf, 2.5MB, 65p.)
     Highlights (pdf, 44KB, 1p.)
     Abstract (html)

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State fiscal challenges

The Rockefeller Institute of Government has recently published three reports by Donald Boyd on current financial challenges and issues facing state and local governments. The public policy research center of the State University of New York, the Institute "conducts research on the role of state and local governments in American federalism and on the management and finances of states and localities." One of the Institute's programs, The Rockefeller Fiscal Studies (RFS), "produces reports on important developments in state finances - from tax collections to spending on education, health, and welfare programs." The RFS publishes State Revenue Report and State Fiscal Briefs and News.

The Donald Boyd series is based on his article, State Finances: Solid Recovery But Challenges Ahead, from the 2006 edition of The Book of the States, scheduled for a June 2006 release by the Council of State Governments.

Retiree Pensions and Health Benefits: State and Local Governments Face New Budget Challenges (04/04/2006, pdf, 510KB)
Whether and how governments respond is a decision for elected officials. Options include raising taxes; cutting other spending; using surplus funds or issuing bonds to begin prefunding existing liabilities; and scaling back benefits.

The 2001 Recession Continues to Affect State Budgets (04/25/2006, pdf, 613KB)
...beyond 2007 states will face challenges, including the need to fund or constrain rapid Medicaid growth, pressures to strengthen pension funding and begin financing newly disclosed liabilities for retiree health care, and the likely need to respond to large cuts in federal grants.

Impact of Proposed 2007 Federal Budget Actions on States (05/25/2006, pdf, 85KB)
The outlook is for federal budget actions to have a limited impact on state budgets in the near term. However, over the longer term, states should anticipate significant pressure from constrained federal spending as Washington grapples with the ballooning deficit.

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Government snooping - redux

Government snooping - what's legal? was a recent FR post. With its latest action, the government's answer seems to be, "Whatever we say because we're trying to protect Americans from terrorism, child pornography, and other bad things." (How about protecting a good thing like privacy?)

Amid broad media coverage today, the New York Times reported on the Justice Department seeking web-surfing records of customers of Internet companies, ostensibly to aid in terrorism and child porn investigations. The article quoted Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), who attended a meeting with Justice officials, as saying, "It was clear that they would go beyond kiddie porn and terrorism and use it for general law enforcement."

AP published a similar story.

In related news, this time of a successful action against government intrusion into citizens' privacy, a May 31 NYT article told of four Connecticut librarians being relieved of a gag order imposed under the USA Patriot Act whereby they could not reveal that the FBI had requested patrons' records. The librarians belong to a Connecticut consortium called Library Connection. Its executive director stated, "The fact that the government can and is eavesdropping on patrons in libraries has a chilling effect, because they really don't know if Big Brother is looking over their shoulder."

Interested in a watchdog organization with the motto, "Defending freedom in the digital world"? Check out Electronic Frontier Foundation.


Relating To Bills Passed, 2006 Hawaii

The Legislative Reference Bureau has published its annual report providing information on bills passed by the Hawaii State Legislature. The publication contains:
  • a preliminary index of bills passed in 2006 listed under broad and general subject matter.
  • laws affected by bills passed
  • status of bills passed
  • total program appropriations for fiscal years 2006-07 and 2007-08

Supplemental Information Relating To Bills Passed, 2006
(available in pdf, 272 KB, from the Bureau)

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