How realistic are presidential budget projections? Even the most careful calculations are susceptible to inappropriate assumptions, misplaced optimism about economic and political conditions, and unavoidable uncertainty about what the future will hold.This week’s charts use data from the Office of Management and Budget to compare the Obama administration’s different budget projections over time. The charts display budgetary estimates of expected revenues, outlays, and deficits from 2008 until 2019. The projections in the Obama administration’s first budget, “A New Era of Responsibility” (NER) are compared against his “Mid-Session Review” (MSR) to see how expectations aligned with reality.
The first chart analyzes the differences in revenue projections among the two estimates. The chart suggests that the revenue projections in the NER were far too optimistic. The Obama administration believed that revenues would climb to over $3,023 billion in 2013, but the revised MSR predicts a much more modest yield of $2,777 billion for this year. This trend continues throughout 2019: the original NER revenue projections are considerably more optimistic than the revised MSR calculations.The second chart, which compares outlay projections among the same sources, tells a similar story. The original NER outlay projections were more optimistic than what actually came to pass. Although President Obama hoped for a more ambitious stimulus program of almost $4,000 billion in outlays to pull the nation out of recession in 2009, actual outlays amounted to a more modest $3,518 billion. Only in 2011 did expected NER outlays match actual outlays. For all other years, the president’s revised MSR outlay projections appear much less sanguine than his rookie NER expectations.
The final chart displays deficit projections from the two budgets. In this case, the NER overestimated deficits in 2009, but its projections fell short of the deficits actually incurred from 2010 to 2013. Even though the administration spent less than planned in its original NER, the lackluster revenue performance during this time was enough to increase the deficit considerably more than anticipated.
The MSR projects that deficits will fall below the original NER projections by 2016, dropping under $500 billion by 2018. Like most budget projections beyond a short-time horizon, this should be taken with a grain of salt; long-term projections are based on uncertain assumptions that often fail to provide an accurate picture, as shown in the original NER projections. Why should we expect that the president’s revised MSR deficit projections will be any less incorrectly optimistic this time? If recent history is any guide, we should expect the MSR deficits to be similarly distorted by these rose-colored assumptions.
Møt somalierne er en samling på 14 illustrerte fortellinger som viser opplevelser fra livet til somaliere i syv europeiske byer: Amsterdam, København, Helsingfors, Leicester, London, Malmø og Oslo.EnglishSuomi
How to assess whether a post-revolutionary country is actually heading somewhere positive? Tunisia struggles onward, Libya pursues its own unique post-revolutionary path but Egypt’s democratic regression is truly worrying.
Syrian government troops have seized a road set to play a crucial role in the removal of chemical-warfare materials from their war-torn nation, Reuters quoted an independent watchdog as saying on Monday.
"The road is open but not safe," said Rami Abdulrahman, who heads the anti-government Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syrian President Bashar Assad's military last month launched a campaign to push opposition fighters away from the route, which runs north of Damascus and connects to a number of armed-forces installations.
Abdulrahman said Assad's military continued combat on Monday against rebels in Nabek, one town located on the strategic route, the Associated Press reported. The warfare chemicals are slated for shipment to the coastal city of Latakia, from which they are to be removed for destruction by foreign vessels.
International efforts to eliminate Syria's chemical arsenal began after Assad admitted possessing the stockpile and agreed to its destruction in September. The moves came after an August nerve-gas attack brought the United States to the brink of potential military intervention against Assad's regime.
Even as Damascus appeared to be tightening its grip on the planned chemical-arms shipping route, a key international official on Sunday voiced pessimism that the disarmament mission would meet a Dec. 31 deadline for removing Syria's most hazardous warfare chemicals from the country, Agence France-Presse reported.
"This may not be possible perhaps because of the technical issues that we have encountered," said Ahmet Üzümcü, director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. "But ... a few days delay wouldn't be much from my point of view."
Üzümcü's agency is overseeing the disarmament effort in cooperation with the United Nations.
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
Last Tuesday, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority authorized the state attorney general to file suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to get the federal government to pick up 100 percent of the expense for the federal plan for ecosystem restoration of damage caused by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). Since 2008, there has been an ongoing dispute between the state and the Corps involving interpretation of Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) of 2007 legislation, in which Congress directed the Corps to develop a plan for restoration of the MRGO ecosystem at full federal expense.
The $3 billion plan, mandated for completion by May of 2008, was finally completed in 2012. Yet, there is still disagreement over what cost share Congress intended, leaving this critical federal restoration effort at a standstill. The state contends that construction is a 100 percent federal expense, while the Corps contends that the typical cost share on restoration projects, 65 percent federal and 35 percent state, applies. This billion dollar question will now be determined by a judge.
The MRGO Must Go Coalition, a group of 17 conservation and neighborhood organizations working since 2006 to see the MRGO closed and the ecosystem restored, has researched this cost share issue for several years. We believe that Congress intended for the MRGO projects under WRDA to be at 100 percent federal cost for construction, responding to the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish during Katrina and the devastating role the MRGO played in this event.
Given the extent and urgency of the restoration needs, however, we call on the state of Louisiana, the Corps and potentially other federal agencies to work together to identify all available funding sources and ensure restoration moves forward in a timely manner. All parties involved should be present to work, first and foremost, to ensure timely implementation of comprehensive MRGO ecosystem restoration, as mandated by Congress. We are painfully aware that, every day, the MRGO ecosystem further deteriorates and communities remain at risk.
We welcome this opportunity for the federal court to resolve the cost share dispute. But no matter how the ruling comes down, the bigger question remains: Where will the funds come from to pay for the $3 billion in restoration projects outlined in the MRGO ecosystem restoration plan? Billions of dollars will have to be appropriated by Congress. It is our job, as stakeholders in the resiliency and safety of the Greater New Orleans Area and as citizens who care about justice being served for the communities and ecosystem torn apart by the MRGO, to ensure that our leaders in Congress clearly understand the importance of this restoration effort and that they find the will to get it done. Learn more and take action at www.MRGOmustGO.org.
12.10.13 - (PRESS RELEASE) On the 63rd International Human Rights Day commemorating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects all people’s rights to equality and freedom from discrimination, the Center for Reproductive Rights is calling for all governments to recognize access to contraception as a fundamental human right.
Said Lilian Sepúlveda, director of the Global Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Women have a fundamental right to decide if and when to have children, yet more than 222 million worldwide are unable to access modern contraception when they need it.
“And history has proven that even well-intentioned efforts to provide women with increased access to contraception can result in coercive practices if women’s rights and empowerment are not at the center of such policies and programs.
“If women are to control their fertility, health, and lives, access to a full range of modern, woman-controlled contraceptives is essential.
“On this International Human Rights Day, it’s time human rights and reproductive health advocates join together to combat the legal and financial barriers to contraception women face and work to ensure contraception is recognized as a human right, not just a health or population policy.”
Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights alongside our partners led the charge in defeating a bill in Honduras that attempted to criminalize the use and distribution of emergency contraception. In Manila City, the Philippines, a devastating ban on contraceptives prevents women from controlling their reproductive autonomy. The Center has been documenting the grave human rights abuses resulting from the ban in Manila City and has taken steps to seek legal accountability for these violations in national courts and international human rights bodies.
The Center and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released ICPD and Human Rights: 20 Years of Advancing Reproductive Rights though UN Treaty Bodies and Legal Reform, fact sheets that examine progress since the adoption of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action more than 20 years ago—when 179 countries committed to ensuring women's reproductive autonomy, including contraceptive information and services.Victory in Honduras ICPD and Human Rights: 20 Years of Advancing Reproductive Rights though UN Treaty Bodies and Legal Reform
By Douglas P. Guarino
Global Security Newswire
WASHINGTON -- A hypothetical nuclear war in South Asia could trigger worldwide famine and “probably cause the end modern industrial civilization as we know it,” the lead author of a new report tells Global Security Newswire.
Published by the watchdog group Physicians for Social Responsibility, the report, titled "Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People at Risk," updates prior studies on the potential impacts that a "limited" nuclear war between India and Pakistan could have on the global climate, and consequently on food supplies.
The prior research, published in 2012, predicted that corn and soybean production in the United States would decline 10 percent on average for 10 years. It also projected a decline in Chinese middle-season rice production -- on average by 21 percent during the first four years and on average 10 percent in the following six.
At the time, Physicians for Social Responsibility said these effects could "put more than one billion people at risk of starvation." The new forecast released on Tuesday indicates the number of people at risk of starvation would actually be double that figure, the group says.
The fresh analysis includes a study completed this fall showing there could be even larger drops in Chinese winter wheat production. These crops could decline by 50 percent during the first year and by more than 30 percent over 10 years.
Increasing prices would exacerbate the shortage of available food, according to the report, which goes on to call for the elimination of nuclear weapons "as quickly as possible."
"Significant, sustained agricultural shortfalls over an extended period would almost certainly lead to panic and hoarding on an international scale as food exporting nations suspended exports in order to assure adequate food supplies for their own populations," the report says. "This turmoil in the agricultural markets would further reduce accessible food."
Ira Helfand, a medical doctor from Northampton, Mass., who served as the lead author of the report, told GSN the data shows that the equivalent of 100 Hiroshima-size bombs could "probably cause the end modern industrial civilization as we know it."
A conflict of this size would represent the use of about half the nuclear arsenals that India and Pakistan possess, or a “tiny portion” of the U.S. and Russian stockpiles, according to Helfand.
"This is an unbelievably huge shock to the international system," Helfand said. "We saw what happened to the world’s economy when the housing bubble collapsed in the United States -- [here] we’re talking about a shock to the international economic-social system orders of magnitude larger than that. I think it’s quite hard to imagine how this much-more-fragile-than-we’d-like-to-think system can survive that."
According to Helfand, the chain of events that would lead to such catastrophe is as follows:
Firestorms caused by nuclear detonations would launch more than 6 million metric tons of soot into the Earth’s atmosphere -- blocking out sunlight and causing a sort of global cooling effect commonly referred to as "nuclear winter."
The cooling and other anticipated climatological impacts -- such as decreased precipitation -- substantially reduce crop yields, which in turn causes disrupted markets and famine.
"Even a limited use of nuclear weapons essentially is an act of suicide," Helfand said. "These weapons simply have to be understood to be completely useless. From the U.S. perspective, if we were to use even a tiny fraction of our own arsenal against an adversary on the other side of the planet, we would end up causing this global catastrophe that would have terrible repercussions here at home."
Helfand argued that, in light of such information, President Obama and other world leaders are not pursuing aggressively enough efforts to reduce and eliminate nuclear arms.
"There is this notion at the moment in policy circles that we don't really have to worry about nuclear war -- just nuclear terrorism because the U.S. and Russia are never going to fight a war," Helfand said. "I don’t know where they get that sense of confidence from -- I certainly don’t have it watching the jockeying between the U.S. and Russia over the last year and knowing how many times we have stumbled accidentally into near-disaster situations even after the end of the Cold War.”
Efforts the Obama administration has made toward arms reductions have been heavily criticized by congressional Republicans, who fear that the president might pursue additional reductions unilaterally -- without reciprocal cuts by Russia -- despite the administration’s assertions to the contrary.
Rose Gottemoeller, Obama’s nominee to be undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, faced sharp questions on this topic during her confirmation hearing in September. Gottemoeller said “unilateral reductions are not on the table,” a response that did not satisfy some Republican senators.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to approve Gottemoeller’s nomination, but her confirmation has yet to be taken up on the Senate floor.
Iran's top diplomat said any new U.S. congressional sanctions against his country could scuttle a multilateral agreement on the Persian Gulf power's disputed nuclear activities, Time magazine reported on Monday.
"The entire deal is dead" if Congress approves new sanctions on the Middle Eastern nation, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a Friday interview. Potential deal-breakers include proposals that would be triggered only if Tehran and six other governments fail within six months to reach a longer-term accord that meets certain standards.
"We do not like to negotiate under duress," Zarif said. "I know the domestic complications and various issues inside the United States, but for me that is no justification."
The six-month interim deal reached in November calls for Iran to implement a number of short-term nuclear restrictions, and for the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany to scale back economic pressure targeting the atomic effort. The pact, which has not yet taken effect, is intended to help those negotiating with Iran to win longer-term restrictions on the initiative widely suspected to be geared toward development of a nuclear-arms capacity.
Zarif said it could prove "difficult" for Iranian negotiators to assure international counterparts that Tehran would not generate weapon-usable plutonium at its Arak heavy-water reactor. Still, he added, Tehran would not accede to international demands to shutter the unfinished site.
"We have reached almost the end game of getting this research reactor into actual operation. So it’s too late in the game for somebody to come and tell us that we have concerns that cannot be addressed," he said.
International Atomic Energy Agency auditors on Sunday traveled to the Arak site for the first time in more than two years, Reuters reported.
Scheduling an IAEA trip to Iran's Gchine uranium mine would likely be one topic of discussion at a Dec. 9-10 meeting between Iranian experts and counterparts from the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. The two-day discussion is also expected to include representatives from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
By Sara Morrison
The rumors we heard from South Korea last week are true: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has removed his own uncle, Jang Song Thaek, from power. Jang, once seen as Kim Jong Un's mentor, was the vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission.
North Korea confirmed the move on Sunday after South Korea's Yonhap news agency noted that a documentary that aired on North Korean television on Saturday cut him out entirely (he was present in earlier airings) and all mentions of him had been removed from the state-run KCNA website.
Needless to say, when North Korea removes you from its public record, that's a very, very bad sign.
According to the KCNA, Jang (who apparently was allowed to be mentioned again in this context) was accused of "anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts" such as:
"Gnawing at the unity and cohesion of the party and disturbing the work for establishing the party unitary leadership system and perpetrated such ant-state, unpopular crimes as doing enormous harm to the efforts to build a thriving nation and improve the standard of people's living.
"Jang pretended to uphold the party and leader but was engrossed in such factional acts as dreaming different dreams and involving himself in double-dealing behind the scene."
"Affected by the capitalist way of living, Jang committed irregularities and corruption and led a dissolute and depraved life.
"By abusing his power, he was engrossed in irregularities and corruption, had improper relations with several women and was wined and dined at back parlors of deluxe restaurants.
"Ideologically sick and extremely idle and easy-going, he used drugs and squandered foreign currency at casinos while he was receiving medical treatment in a foreign country under the care of the party."
There's still hope yet for Jang, who was once seen as his nephew's mentor. Jang, 67, has survived purges before and returned to power, though this was by far the most public. Also, it's believed that two of his top aides were executed last month, and he hasn't been seen since.
What Jang's removal means to North Korea is a matter of debate, according to the AP. Some believe it shows that Kim Jong Un is insecure about his position and is trying to remove any possible challengers to his throne. Others believe it shows that he is stronger than ever, and secure enough to take out anyone he so desires.
Jang is married to Kim Jong Il's sister. According to the BBC, they have had one daughter, who is believed to be dead.
Reprinted with permission from The Wire. The original story can be found here.
Tightening workplace standards in place since 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is proposing a new standard on silica exposure. Silica refers to very small particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand created during work operations (e.g., cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing) involving stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, mortar, and industrial sand. Silica exposure may cause fatal illnesses such as the lung disease silicosis.
Unfortunately, OSHA fails to adequately enforce current standards. Until it finds a way to ensure that businesses follow the current rules for protecting workers, a more stringent limit on silica exposure likely will not help improve worker safety.
OSHA is proposing a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, thus halving the silica exposure allowed for general industry and maritime workers—and reducing it by 80 percent for those in the construction industry. OSHA claims this stricter standard will eventually save 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year.
However, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that as much as 40 percent of OSHA-collected silica samples exceed current standards in the construction industry. OSHA itself admits that many workers are currently exposed to silica in excess of five times the proposed PEL of 50, and multiples of current standards.
OSHA’s far-from-perfect track record matters much here because its cost-benefit analysis for the new rules and requirements assumes businesses perfectly comply with all standards, past and present.
The following example demonstrates how perfect compliance exaggerates benefits: Suppose we pass a law mandating that all workers exercise each day for one hour. OSHA would estimate huge health benefits based on the assumption that all workers would, indeed, now exercise for a full hour each day. Of course, we all know that our actions rarely match up to our intentions and actual hours exercised will be far below estimates.
The same goes for OSHA’s assumption that the new silica standard will reduce the number of silicosis cases by 1,600 per year and therefore provide billions of dollars in benefits. These naïve estimates assume that all workers are exposed to no more than the more stringent standard—an unlikely scenario given the lack of success of the current standards.
Thus OSHA’s conclusion—that benefits from the proposed standard greatly outmatch the current standard—are already “baked-into-the-cake.” But this is an invalid comparison, akin to comparing the benefits of a revamped hypothetical law mandating two hours of exercise each day versus one hour. Does anyone believe the entire working population would now double the decreed dose of exercise when the original prescription was quixotic to begin with?
Much of this particularly bad regulatory move’s burden is borne by workers in small businesses. OSHA estimates that 2.2 million workers are exposed to silica, but 1.3 million workers (59 percent) are employed by 470,000 small businesses. Very small businesses—as defined by those with fewer than 20 workers—account for 580,000 (26 percent) of workers exposed to silica, with many working in foundries, construction and dental labs.
OSHA also mandates silica mitigation through dust control methods (e.g., water sprays, dust collectors, enclosed cabs on equipment, or prohibiting activities such as dry sweeping) that require businesses rely on personal protection equipment (PPE), like a gas mask, as a very last resort. Common sense suggests that encouraging the use of PPE may be a cost-effective method of limiting silica exposure, especially for small businesses struggling to make their weekly payrolls. Surprisingly, even though OSHA admits that the stricter proposed standards still pose significant risks, it does not appear to believe that PPE offers an added layer of protection.
Why does OSHA only suggest PPE as a last resort? Because it believes workers might not wear or properly maintain PPEs. But a little common sense suggests that these same arguments may be leveled against approved mandated methods of dust control—strong possibilities given OHSA’s track record on enforcing current standards.
The bottom line remains that OSHA unevenly enforces its well-intentioned rules, so tightening standards for regulations may not help protect workers as much as the agency claims. Similarly, even under perfect compliance with the new standard, PPEs would provide a low-cost option for greater protection from silica dust; yet OSHA bypassed including tighter rules for the use of such equipment. OSHA needs to go back to the drawing board and provide workers with a reasonable, sound and realistic law that protects them from the hazards of silica exposure.
The Australian government took the reins of the G20 on 1 December. In its vision it acknowledges that corruption is bad for business, but Australian business doesn’t seem to think the same, having dropped it from its top priorities for 2014. We think this is a mistake. “Corruption is a severe impediment to sustainable economic […]
Suparna Karmakar, a Visiting Scholar at Bruegel, evaluates the outcome of the WTO's conference in Bali and talks about the future of global trade talks. The WTO should now aim to create another set of deliverables that focus on development and are the end game of the Doha round.