Recession - who decides?

A four-page paper from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) discusses the definition of a recession. The "generally recognized arbiter" of recessions is the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), specifically its business cycle dating committee. On Jan. 7, the committee issued a memo which stated in part:
A recession is a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.
CRS notes that since it takes time to compile data, it can be more than a year to date the beginning of a recession. The paper concludes:
Although there can be a significant delay between the onset of a recession and the dating committee determination, there is often little doubt that the economy is, or has been, in recession well before the announcement. For policy to have mitigating effects, it must occur quickly. Policymakers may not have the luxury of holding themselves to as strict a definition of recession as economic analysts.
What is a Recession, Who Decides When It Starts, and When Do They Decide? RS22793 (pdf, 4pp/64kB, from Open CRS), Jan. 23, 2008

Labels: , ,


Gas prices braking drivers

Citing a 100% increase in U.S. gasoline prices (to $3 per gallon) since 2003, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has published a study on gas price effects on driving and car sales. CBO analyzed data from California highways and sales of new and used vehicles from 2003 to 2006.

Among the findings:
  • Freeway motorists are making fewer trips and driving more slowly
  • Market share of light trucks (including SUVs and minivans) began to decline in 2004
  • Used vehicle prices have shifted, with prices declining for larger models and rising for fuel-efficient cars
CBO notes two policy tools that encourage the use of more-fuel-efficient vehicles: the federal corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards and federal and state gasoline taxes.
Higher prices for gasoline affect both types of policies. By increasing the market demand for fuel-efficient vehicles, higher gasoline prices reduce the economic costs--to manufacturers and to consumers--of achieving stricter CAFE standards. Also, with higher gasoline prices, the average gasoline tax--or any given increase in that tax--is now a smaller share of the price of gasoline than it was in the past.

Effects of Gasoline Prices on Driving Behavior and Vehicle Markets (pdf, 58pp/828kb), January 2008

Labels: , ,


Recent CRS reports

Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports from Open CRS:

The Effect of State-Legalized Same-Sex Marriage on Social Security Benefits and Pensions, RS21897 (pdf, 5pp/68kB), Jan. 3, 2008

Same-sex spouses are ineligible for Social Security benefits because of gender-based definitions of "wife" and "husband" in the Social Security Act (42 USC 416 (b) and (f)), and the definition of "marriage" in the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, P.L. 104-199 (pdf).

Both federal and private pensions regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) are required to comply with DOMA's definition of a spouse as a "person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."

Dollar Crisis: Prospect and Implications, RL34311 (pdf, 17pp/124kB), Jan. 8, 2008

Since 2002, the dollar in international exchange has fallen about 29%, accelerating in latter 2007. Among the report's findings are three possible reasons why a dollar crisis won't occur: a large share of a global saving glut is attracted to U.S. asset markets, resulting in large capital inflows to the U.S.; under the current global monetary arrangement known as Breton Woods II, central banks, particularly in Asia, use dollar reserves to stabilize their currencies; and the "dark matter argument"--that large measurement errors in U.S. trade data understate U.S. exports and overstate U.S. net external debt, the dark matter being invisible assets.

Regulation of Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions: State and Federal Standards, RS22788 (pdf, 6pp/76kB), Jan. 11, 2008

This report stems from the denial by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of California's request for a waiver to establish its own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards and compares them with federal standards. California was denied a waiver because federal fuel economy standards in the 2007 energy bill (P.L. 110-140) "will be more stringent than the California program." CRS cites the two relevant California bills that were enacted: AB1493 (pdf, 8pp), in 2002, requiring GHG reductions for vehicles from model year 2009, and AB32 (pdf, 13pp), in 2006, requiring additional GHG reductions.

See earlier FR posts on the energy bill (H.R. 6 that became P.L. 110-140):
     Smart grid - the bigger picture (1-8-08)
     Smart grid (1-3-08)

Labels: , , , ,


Getting it done



Elder abuse

The Hawaii Legislative Reference Bureau's new study examines states' adult protective services law, gathers data on elder and adult abusive incidence in other states, analyzes possible changes to Hawaii's laws to conform to those of other states, and estimates the predicted effects of those changes on the caseload of Hawaii's Dept. of Adult Protective Services.

A new LRB study in response to HCR 188, HD2 (Hawaii Regular Session, 2007):

A Survey of Adult Protective Services and Elder Abuse in Hawaii and Nationwide.
(2007, pdf, 65pp/1MB)

Labels: , , , ,


End-of-life care

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on end-of-life care in four states: Arizona, Florida, Oregon, and Wisconsin. GAO relied on studies from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to identify six key components of end-of-life care:
  • Care management to coordinate service delivery
  • Services to assist individuals in noninstitutional settings
  • Pain and symptom management
  • Family and caregiver support
  • Communication among individuals, families, and program staff
  • Assistance with advance care planning
GAO interviewed providers of the following programs in the four states that incorporate these key components: Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), Arizona Long Term Care System (ALTCS), Wisconsin Partnership Program (WPP), and palliative care programs.

End-of-Life Care: Key Components Provided by Programs in Four States, GAO-08-66 (pdf, 27pp/364kB), December 14, 2007 (released Jan. 14, 2008)

Labels: , , ,


Red, blue, purple

A joint Brookings-American Enterprise Institute project, The Future of Red, Blue and Purple America sets forth 7 trends that "seem likely to be particularly important to decoding our political future." A paper on each trend will be presented at a conference on Feb. 28, 2008. The papers will be published online and a book will be published in fall 2008. The Brookings Governance Studies Program has published an executive summary of the project.

The seven trends:
  • The rise of exurbia and the changing face of the suburbs
  • Do birds of a feather flock together?
  • Race, immigration and the next American people
  • The decline of the white working class and other shifts in the American class structure
  • The changing American family
  • More secular, more evangelical...or both?
  • The aging of the boomers and the rise of the millennials
The Future of Red, Blue and Purple America; Executive Summary (pdf, 15pp/308kB)



Respite care

The Hawaii Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) reviews how respite care programs and states define "respite care." The Bureau researched other states' respite care programs, particularly those that offer respite care options to caregivers who are caring for older adults or adults with chronic illnesses. Finally, the Bureau looked at how five states assess their respite care programs.

A new study in response to House Concurrent Resolution 187, House Draft 1 (Hawaii Regular Session, 2007):

Gimme A Break: Respite Care Services In Other States
(2007, pdf, 70pp/1MB)

Labels: , ,


Feds blow it

The federal government failed dismally in The American Lung Association's annual report card on federal and state tobacco control legislation and policies to tighten regulation of tobacco and discourage smoking. Reuters reports that the study also found states falling far short.
"While many states have failed to make meaningful progress at protecting their most vulnerable citizens, the tobacco companies are spending billions of dollars annually marketing their deadly products," the report reads.
The report tracked progress on tobacco regulation and reported on gains, losses and issues stalled throughout 2007. According to The American Lung Association website:
The Lung Association's report card grades each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico on their tobacco control policies in smokefree air, cigarette tax, tobacco prevention spending, and youth access to tobacco products. The report grades federal tobacco control efforts on cigarette tax, giving the FDA authority over manufactured tobacco products, cessation and ratification of the international tobacco control treaty.
Hawaii faired much better than the federal government and many states, receiving A's and B's in the Association's four areas of analysis:
  1. Tobacco Prevention & Control Spending (A)
  2. Smokefree Air (A)
  3. Cigarette Tax (B)
  4. Youth Access (B)
For 2007, The American Lung Association
recognizes Hawaii for increasing its cigarette tax by $0.20 to $1.80 per pack, and for funding its tobacco control program above the minimum level recommended by CDC for the first time.
The American Lung Association State of Tobacco Control 2007
(2007, HTML)

Press Release (HTML)

State Summary for Hawaii

Labels: , , , ,


Smart grid - the bigger picture

A recent post covered a report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) on Smart Grid, part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, H.R. 6 that became P.L. 110-140 (still unavailable online). CRS subsequently issued a report on the entire act, providing a summary of its major provisions.

The report cites the law's key provisions as:
  • Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE). Sets a target of 35 miles per gallon for the combined fleet of cars and light trucks by model year 2020.

  • Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). Sets a modified standard that starts at 9.0 billion gallons in 2008 and rises to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

  • Energy Efficiency Equipment Standards. Includes a variety of new standards for lighting and for residential and commercial appliances, including residential refrigerators, freezers, refrigerator-freezers, metal halide lamps, and commercial walk-in coolers and freezers.
CRS summarizes each of the 16 titles in the new law.

Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007: A Summary of Major Provisions, CRS Report RL34294 (pdf, 27pp/152kB, from Open CRS), Dec. 21, 2007

Labels: , ,

Two more for the new year

Two new year studies addressed revealing controversies in the US culture wars. The New York Times (NYT) reports of two economists' conference paper (pdf, 63pp) to this year's annual meeting of the American Economic Association. According to NYT, Professor Gordon Dahl of the University of California, San Diego, and Stefano DellaVigna, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, find
that violent films prevent violent crime by attracting would-be assailants and keeping them cloistered in darkened, alcohol-free environs.
Their paper suggests killing time at a movie is not spent in more violent behavior or tendencies.
"Economics is about choice," Professor Dahl said. "What would these people have done if they had not chosen to go and see a movie?...on days with a high audience for violent movies, violent crime is lower."
NYT quotes Melissa Henson, senior director of programs at the Parents Television Council, "The study's premise strikes me as somewhat goofy."

In 1999 the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published a report (OpenBook, 48pp) which, according to the NAS website,
states unequivocally that creationism has no place in any science curriculum at any grade level.
However nine years later, NYT reported earlier this week that the NAS Committee on Revising Science and Creationism new book is meant to further defend and explain
the fundamental methods of science, document the overwhelming evidence in support of biological evolution, and evaluate the alternative perspectives offered by advocates of various kinds of creationism, including "intelligent design."
Including statements from biologists and members of the clergy, the report is intended for students, school boards, legislators, policy makers, and leaders of the community.
...science and religion should be viewed as different ways of understanding the world rather than as frameworks that are in conflict with each other and that the evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith.
Science, Evolution, and Creationism
(2008, OpenBook, 88pp)

Labels: , ,


Smart grid

On Dec. 19, President Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, H.R.6, which became P.L. 110-140 (not currently available online). According to a NY Times article, it is "Legislation that will slowly but fundamentally change the cars Americans drive, the fuel they burn, the way they light their homes and the price they pay for food...."

On Dec. 20, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report on Smart Grid, provided for in Title XIII of the act.
The term Smart Grid refers to a distribution system that allows for flow of information from a customer's meter in two directions: both inside the house to thermostats and appliances and other devices, and back to the utility....The goal is to use advanced, information-based technologies to increase power grid efficiency, reliability, and flexibility, and reduce the rate at which additional electric utility infrastructure needs to be built.
Section 1307 therein provides for state consideration of Smart Grid. As summarized by CRS:
The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (16 U.S.C. 2621 (d)) is amended to require each state to consider requiring electric utilities demonstrate that prior to investing in non-advanced grid technologies, Smart Grid technology is determined not to be appropriate. States must also consider regulatory standards that allow utilities to recover Smart Grid investments through rates.

Smart Grid Provisions in H.R. 6, 110th Congress, CRS Report RL34288 (pdf, 11pp/248kB, from Open CRS), December 20, 2007

Video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking in favor of the bill, Dec. 6, 2007 (10:03), from YouTube:

Labels: , , , ,