Just in ... organic farming

Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food, by Pamela C. Ronald and Raoul W. Adamchak, a genetic scientist and an organic farmer, advocates the merger of seemingly polar opposites of the agricultural industry: genetic engineering and organic farming. From the Preface:
Written as part memoir, part instruction, and part contemplation, this book roughly chronicles one year in our life. Our intention is to give readers a better understanding of what geneticists and organic farmers actually do and also to help readers distinguish between fact and fiction in the debate about crop genetic engineering. Readers who wish to know more about the science behind the passionate arguments surrounding genetic engineering and organic agriculture can find it in this book.
xvii, 208 pp.

TP248.65 F66 R66 2008
ISBN13: 978-0195301755
ISBN10: 0195301757

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Cloud computing

In summer 2008, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program convened a roundtable on information technology with 28 leaders and experts from various sectors to discuss the implications of cloud computing and to suggest policies. As defined in the Foreword, cloud computing "refers to the myriad of information and communications activities that are increasingly taking place in the network, broadly defined.....the cloud signals the movement of hard and soft functions such as storage, software applications and services to an off premises service industry." The discussions were compiled into this report by J.D. Lasica.

Identity in the Age of Cloud Computing: The next-generation Internet's impact on business, governance and social interaction (pdf, 110pp/812kB), April 2009



Ethanol on food prices, gas emissions

On April 8, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report on the impact of ethanol on greenhouse gas emissions, food prices, and federal nutrition programs. Last year, U.S. consumption of ethanol reached a record high of more than 9 billion gallons. Increased use of ethanol is mandated in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), P.L. 110-140 (pdf, 311pp). One-quarter of all U.S. corn now goes to produce ethanol.
The demand for corn for ethanol production has exerted upward pressure on corn prices and on food prices in general. CBO estimates that the increased use of ethanol accounted for about 10 percent to 15 percent of the rise in food prices between April 2007 and April 2008.

In turn, increases in food prices will boost federal spending for mandatory nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) and the school lunch program by an estimated $600 million to $900 million in fiscal year 2009.

The Impact of Ethanol Use on Food Prices and Greenhouse-Gas Emissions
      Report (pdf, 26pp/2.5MB), April 2009

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Public pension plans

In its April Notes, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) covered public pension plan asset allocations.
This analysis examines the volatility in employer contribution rates caused by the higher-return-seeking/higher-risk investment portfolios adopted by many pension plans, and whether plan sponsors will increase fixed-income investments in order to reduce volatility. It appears that, in the short run, a significant shift toward a lower-return investment policy in return for reduced volatility in employer contributions is unlikely to occur because of plan sponsors’ expected high returns from current asset allocations, their current ability to use high discount rates, and the tendency of investment managers to not deviate from peer group investments.
Public Pension Plan Asset Allocations
      Report (pdf, 12pp/328kB), April 2009
      Executive Summary
      Press release

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Job sprawl

The Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program published a report on "the ongoing decentralization of population and employment" from city centers to distant suburbs. Authored by Elizabeth Kneebone, the report found that:
  • Only 21 percent of employees in the top 98 metro areas work within three miles of downtown, while over twice that share (45 percent) work more than 10 miles away from the city center.
  • Job location within metropolitan areas varies widely across industries.
  • Employment steadily decentralized between 1998 and 2006: 95 out of 98 metro areas saw a decrease in the share of jobs located within three miles of downtown.
  • In almost every major industry, jobs shifted away from the city center between 1998 and 2006
The author concludes:
Understanding the changing location of jobs within U.S. regions represents a necessary step towards implementing more cohesive, comprehensive policies for economically productive, socially inclusive, and environmentally sustainable metropolitan growth.

Job Sprawl Revisited: The Changing Geography of Metropolitan Employment
      Report (pdf, 24pp/2.6MB), April 2009
      Press release (pdf, 4pp)
      Q&A with author (pdf, 2pp)

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Just in ... coral

The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States: 2008, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This is the third in an ongoing series of reports on the condition of coral reef ecosystems in the U.S. and Pacific Freely Associated States (earlier reports were in 2002 and 2005). Covers coral reefs in: U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Navassa Island (off Haiti), Florida, Northwestern Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, NW Hawaiian Islands, America Samoa, Pacific Remote Island Areas (such as Johnston, Wake, Palmyra), Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and Palau. 567 pp.

For overview and downloads, go to Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment (CCMA).

QH104 U56 2008

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Recent GAO reports

From the Government Accountability Office (GAO):

DEFINED BENEFIT PENSIONS: Survey Results of the Nation's Largest Private Defined Benefit Plan Sponsors, GAO-09-291 (pdf, 65pp/3.8MB), March 30, 2009

GAO surveyed 94 of the nation's largest defined benefit (DB) plan sponsors for (1) changes to pension and benefit offerings, including to defined contribution (DC) plans and health offerings, over the last 10 years, and (2) possible future changes to pensions and how they might be influenced by changes in pension law and other factors. There were 44 responses. GAO noted a significant shift from DB plans to DC plans. DB plans have declined from about 92,000 in 1990 to under 29,000 today, and 28 percent of plans reported in the survey were under a plan freeze.

CLIMATE CHANGE: Observations on Federal Efforts to Adapt to a Changing Climate, GAO-09-534T (pdf, 14pp/184kB), March 25, 2009

GAO has been working with the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming on adaption. This testimony summarizes (1) actions that federal, state, local, and international authorities are taking to adapt to a changing climate, (2) the challenges that federal, state, and local officials face in their efforts to adapt, and (3) relevant actions that Congress and federal agencies can take.

URBAN PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENTS: Congestion Relief Initiative Holds Promise; Some Improvements Needed in Selection Process, GAO-09-154 (pdf, 99pp/928kB), March 25, 2009

In 2007 the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) awarded $848 million to five cities (Miami, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle) under the Urban Partnership Agreements (UPA, Urban Partnerships) to relieve congestion. The UPA initiative encouraged the use of the 4 Ts: tolling (congestion pricing), transit, technology, and telecommuting. This report addresses (1) how well DOT communicated UPA selection criteria, (2) whether it had discretion to allocate grant funds to UPA recipients and consider congestion pricing as a priority selection factor, and (3) how it is ensuring that UPA award conditions are met and results are assessed.

U.S. POSTAL SERVICE: Escalating Financial Problems Require Major Cost Reductions to Limit Losses, GAO-09-475T (pdf, 20pp/264kB), March 25, 2009

The financial problems of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) have been widely covered in the media. In this testimony, GAO reports on USPS's deteriorating finances, with such stats as accelerating declines in mail volume (11 billion pieces) and losses ($2 billion) in the first five months of FY 2009. GAO focuses on (1) USPS's financial condition and outlook and (2) its options and actions to remain financially viable in the short and long term.

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