Tuesday, December 23, 2008

President Bush's Accomplishments

Now that his term is ending, the White House has posted documents highlighting the accomplishments of President George W. Bush. You can access a separate appendix entitled "100 Things American May Not Know About the Bush Administration Record" or the full report (including the appendix): Highlights of Accomplishments and Results: The Administration of President George W. Bush, 2001-2009.

Please Note: With the Obama Presidency, Bush Administration documents such as the ones mentioned above that were located on http://www.whitehouse.gov, now reside at http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Service Academy Gender Relations Survey

Every two years the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the U.S. Air Force Academy anonymously survey all female students and a statistically representative random sample of male students to assess if programs to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault are working. According to a Dec. 17 news release, the 2007-2008 Service Academy Gender Relations Survey is now available.

Although 90 percent of students surveyed indicated the "training had at least some effect in reducing or eliminating sexual assaults at the MSAs," the Department of Defense (DOD) estimates 90 percent of sexual assaults at the academies still go unreported because students are uncomfortable making reports, or are embarrassed about the situation, or want to deal with the situation themselves.

The full report is available from the United States Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Web page.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Genocide Prevention

The Genocide Prevention Task Force led by co-chairs former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen recently released Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers. A joint project of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, The American Academy of Diplomacy, and the Endowment of the United States Institute of Peace, the goal of the report is to "identify practical steps to enhance the capacity of the U.S. government to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities. " The year 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the 20th anniversary of its ratification by the United States. The report discusses five domains for the U.S. government to consider in developing and deploying effective prevention strategies:

  • Early warning: assessing risks and triggering action.
  • Early prevention: engaging before the crisis.
  • Preventive diplomacy: halting and reversing escalation.
  • Employing military options.
  • International action: strengthening norms and institutions.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Remembering Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941 many Americans had never heard of Peal Harbor. However, the Japanese attack quickly made Pearl Harbor a household name. At the site where the USS Arizona sunk now stands a national park memorial. How much do you know about this important national park? Here are a few questions to test your knowledge. Answers are at the end.

1. What popular singer raised funds in 1961 to erect the memorial?

2. True - False - Sets of brothers were assigned to serve on the USS Arizona during that time period.

3. True - False - The USS Arizona is still treated as a member of our current fleet.

4. True - False - The USS Arizona rests in 120 feet of water.

5. True - False - Surviving crew members can choose to be buried on the Arizona when they die.

To find out more information about Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona, access the National Parks Service USS Arizona site.

1. Elvis Presley; 2. Thirty-seven confirmed sets of brothers were assigned to the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941. 3. True - The flag flying on the ship's mast flies at half-mast when other ships fly theirs at half-staff. 4.False - The Arizona rests in approximately 40 feet of water. 5. True - Crew members who so desire have a choice of having their ashes scattered over the place where the ship was located during the attack or have a diver drop an urn containing their ashes into a slot of the ship.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

U.S. Health Insurance Coverage

The lack of adequate health insurance has been a topic of concern in the recent elections. A National Health Statistics report provides information about health insurance coverage, concentrating on the 41 states that had at least 1,000 respondents. Entitled, State, Regional, and National Estimates of Health Insurance Coverage for People Under 65 Years of Age: National Health Interview Survey, 2004-2006, the report reveals New England states had the lowest percentage of uninsured people under age 65 while the Southwestern states had the highest percentage.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Transition Web Site - New Administration & Congress

As Barack Obama and newly elected Congress members work to effect a smooth transition, help is available from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). On its Serving the Congress and the Nation page, the GAO "provides insight into, and recommendations for addressing the nation’s major issues, risks and challenges." The site also includes video messages from experts and reports for further research.

The following are listed as "urgent issues" for the newly elected leaders to address:

  • oversight of financial institutions and markets,
  • U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan,
  • protecting the homeland,
  • undisciplined defense spending,
  • improving the U.S. image abroad,
  • finalizing plans for the 2010 Census,
  • caring for service members,
  • preparing for public health emergencies,
  • revamping oversight of food safety,
  • restructuring the approach to surface transportation,
  • retirement of the Space Shuttle,
  • ensuring an effective transition to digital TV, and
  • rebuilding military readiness.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

U.S. Bank Card and Mortgage Delinquencies

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has created an interactive map of bank card and mortgage delinquencies in the United States. Clicking on a state brings up a chart listing counties and corresponding rates for either mortgages or bank cards, whichever is selected from a bar on the top. Once a state is selected it is also possible to click on a county and just get data from that county.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Honor Our Veterans

People in the United States have many opportunities to honor our veterans on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2008. Each year the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spotlights regional celebrations chosen as especially fitting tribute to veterans.

Houston's program, Houston Salutes American Heroes, begins at 10:00 a.m. with a ceremony on the steps of City Hall. At 11 a.m. the 11th Hour Ceremony begins with a moment of silence to honor fallen service members. At 11:45 a parade with a flyover begins at Smith and Texas Streets.

On the campus of Rice University a ceremony honoring and recognizing Rice veterans will begin at 11 a.m. in Rice Memorial Center's Ray Courtyard.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Electoral College

After Tuesday's election the Electoral College takes over. Do you know who is responsible for administering the Electoral College? Is it:
  • a. Congress
  • b. the states
  • c. Office of the Federal Register?

Actually, 1985 legislation designated the Archivist of the United States (from the National Archives and Records Administration [NARA]) as administrator of the Electoral College on behalf of Congress and the states. The Archivist in turn gave the responsibility to its Office of the Federal Register. After the election of 2000 Michael White, then chief counsel of the Federal Register, was dubbed the "Dean of the Electoral College." White has posted an enlightening discussion explaining the role of NARA's Office of the Federal Register in the Electoral College process. For additional information about the Electoral College, visit NARA's U.S. Electoral College pages:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Vitamin D Deficiency

The Associated Press revealed Oct. 12 that the American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending double the dose of vitamin D for children since there is evidence it might reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease in addition to preventing bone disorders like rickets. Vitamin D is added to milk and formula, but most children and teenagers do not drink enough milk to get the newly recommended dosage of 400 IU a day (up from 200 IU a day). Also breastfed babies are likely to need a supplement.

In addition to milk, other sources of Vitamin D are the sun, fortified cereals, and oily fish such as tuna, sardines, and mackerel. To get adequate Vitamin D from the UV rays of the sun requires 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen a few times weekly. That poses a problem for those living in a northern climate with less sun and for those with darker skin making absorption more difficult.

For more detailed information about Vitamin D, see the National Institutes of Health Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D (not yet revised with the new recommendation). Also look for changes in the recommended dosage for adults which now stands at 200 IU through age 50, 400 IU for ages 51-70, and 600 IU for ages 71+.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Voter Registration

Although Texas has an Oct. 6 deadline to register to vote, not all states have the same deadline. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission's National Voter Registration site, a few states like Montana and Nevada even allow voters to register on election day. See registration deadlines to check the deadline for a specific state.

If you need to determine whether you are officially registered or where to cast your vote, state election officials have created CanIVote.org to help you. After selecting a state, you can select the "Am I Registered" link and enter either your driver's license number, your name, or your VUID.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Iraq Stability and Security

The latest (Sept. 2008) quarterly report of the Department of Defense's "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" is now available. Previous editions are located at http://www.defenselink.mil/home/features/Iraq_Reports/index.html. Major topics covered include political stability, economic activity, security/transferring security, and Iraqi Security Forces training and performance.

Threat From Iranian Nuclear Development

On Sept. 19, 2008 the Bipartisan Policy Center (a non-profit organization established in 2007 by former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell to provide a forum to address tough policy challenges) released a report entitled Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development. Not surprisingly, the report, co-chaired by former senators Daniel Coats (Republican from Indiana) and Charles Robb (Democrat from Virgina) concluded that "Iran's nuclear development may pose the most significant strategic threat to the United States during the next administration."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Economic Stimulus Bill Details

(Additional content posted on 10/3/08)

To see how your Congress member voted on the Economic Stimulus Bill, click on House Vote #674 (Sept. 29, 2008). GovTrack.us, an open source independent tool to track the status of current U.S. federal legislation, has also created a line-by-line comparison of the texts of the drafts. The senate vote passing the amendment is also available.

Another site worth checking out is Public Markup.org which gives you the opportunity to comment online about proposed bills. You can see what the public has posted regarding the Senate Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. Sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation, the site collects "legislation, summaries, resources and commentary in a single linkable location" in order to give the public a chance to refine a bill to make it more palatable to lawmakers.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Understanding the Current Financial Crisis

Two brief (six pages each) Congressional Research Summaries about the current financial crisis are now available from the Thurgood Marshall Law Library. The reports provide a good basis for understanding the current financial turmoil.

The Cost of Government Financial Interventions, Past and Present discusses recent financial interventions by the government in the business of private corporations including sources of funding and costs to the taxpayer. The report uses AIG, Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, and Bear Stearns as examples and provides a table summarizing current and historical financial interventions by the Federal Government.

Using a draft version of 9/21/2008, the Proposal to Allow Treasury to Buy Mortgage-Related Assets to Address Financial Instability analyzes Treasury Secretary Paulsen's plan to purchase mortgage-related assets from troubled U.S. financial institutions.

For those at Rice University, CQ Weekly also provides background information about the financial crisis.

Registering to Vote and Early Voting for the Nov. 4th Election

(For a comprehensive list of linked election/voting Web sites, see Fondren's Election/Voting Resources.)

Voter Registration

If you mail a voter register card to vote in the November 4th election, it must be postmarked by Monday, Oct. 6 (30 days before the election). For other ways of registering to vote, see the Harris County Tax Office voter registration page. For those wanting the quickest service, it is possible to register in person at any of the 16 area Tax Offices or any of the following agencies:
Texas Health and Human Services Commission
Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services
Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services
Texas Department of State Health Services
Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)
Each public library
Each marriage license office of the county clerk.

The Harris County Tax Office also maintains a Voter Registration Frequently Asked Questions page.

Voter Registration Certificates usually arrive within 30 days. If your certificate has not arrived by November 4 or if you are unsure if you have registered, in Harris County you can see your Voter Registration Record online. It includes a list of your elected district representatives (U.S., Texas, and local) and other voting district information (school district, community college, etc.). Just be careful to follow the directions for accessing information either by name, by address, or by voter registration certificate number.

If you cannot find your voter registration certificate, the Texas Secretary of State lists the following forms of acceptable identification:

  • a driver's license or personal identification card issued to you by the Department of Public Safety or a similar document issued to you by an agency of another state, regardless of whether the license or card has expired;
  • a form of identification containing your photograph that establishes your identity;
  • a birth certificate or other document confirming birth that is admissible in a court of law and establishes your identity;
  • United States citizenship papers issued to you;
  • a United States passport issued to you;
  • official mail addressed to you, by name, from a governmental entity;
  • a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows your name and address.

Early Voting/Voting by Mail

For a detailed description of all early voting provisions, see the Texas Secretary of State's Early Voting in Texas page. Early voting begins Oct. 20 and ends Oct. 31. Harris Votes provides a list of early voting locations for Harris County.

Registered voters may also apply for a ballot by mail starting Sept. 5. Requests must be received (not just postmarked) by Oct. 28. The Texas Secretary of State lists the following eligibility requirements for voting by mail:

  • be 65 years or older;
  • be disabled;
  • be out of the county on election day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance; or
  • be confined in jail, but otherwise eligible.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Snapshot of American Communities

According to a Sept. 23, 2008 press release from the Census Bureau, in 2007 12.3 percent nationally and one in five residents of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas spoke Spanish at home. About 12.6 percent of the population of the United States or 38.1 million people were foreign-born residents with the largest number (12 million people) coming from Mexico.

The survey also showed that among the 20 largest metropolitan areas San Francisco had the highest median home value ($706,000) while Houston had the lowest ($135,800). Geographically, a higher percentage of people born in the Midwest stayed in their current state of residence (70.3 percent) than in any other region, while only 48.5 percent remained in the West.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rebuild a Sustainable Houston

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, Houstonians are discussing what they will do differently in the future to prepare for hurricanes. After days without electricity neighborhoods with overhead power lines are longing for buried ones. In a Houston Chronicle article Houston City Councilman Peter Brown mentions ideas for making Houston more hurricane-proof and sustainable including retrofitting the city's electrical infrastructure, improving flood control, and adopting better building codes. In Texas SECO (State Energy Conservation Office) has gathered Sustainable Building Links to help transform ideas into reality.

Regardless of what happens in the future, Houstonians would like to thank local crews and all those who came from out of town and out of state to help get us functional again. Seeing a rescue truck from Los Angeles or a power truck from Florida or Ohio or a tree cutting service from Alabama helping our local workers literally made and continue to make our days brighter physically and emotionally.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

American Community Survey Data Problem

The following message is of interest to anyone who is using FTP with American Community Survey (ACS) files for 2000-2004:

The ACS Archive Files for 2000-2004 have been temporarily removed from the Census FTP site due to problems discovered and related to the files' movement from the American FactFinder (AFF) to the FTP Site, resulting in truncated or missing data and meta-data. Please note this problem does not affect the 2000-2004 data that were previously residing on AFF. Data users who currently have these files downloaded from the FTP Site should discard them and wait until updated files are available for their use. These files will be made available shortly. We will notify users of the re-posting of these files via the ACS errata page located on http://www.census.gov/acs/www/UseData/Errata.htm .

Thank you!

David Donovan
Chief, State and Governmental Programs
Customer Liaison and Marketing Services Office
U.S. Census Bureau

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Elections and Undocumented Workers

Now that candidates are selected for the upcoming election, political parties are looking at the possible impact of various groups. Although they do not vote, one group receiving attention is undocumented workers. Of interest to those in future Congressional races is Orlando J. Rodriquez's Impact of Undocumented Populations on 2010 Congressional Reapportionment. Although Rodriquez is not predicting the outcome of 2010 Congressional reapportionment, his analysis "reveals that counting undocumented populations increases the relative share of Congressional representation for citizens of some states at the expense of citizens in other states."

Monday, September 01, 2008

Unwelcome Roommates

First it was hotel rooms. Now college campuses have joined in the unpleasant experience of blood-sucking bed bug invasions. With increasing numbers of students studying abroad, opportunities for bringing these annoying pests back in luggage or on clothes have also increased.

What are the symptoms of a bed bug attack? Unlike flea bites which have a red spot in the center, bed bug bites usually result in a small, hard, swollen, white welt with rows of three or more welts being common. Although these pesky insects are not thought to carry disease, scratching the itchy bites sometimes results in infection.

It is not easy to get rid of bed bugs since they can live for extended periods of time without food. For heavy infestations using the services of a professional exterminator is advised.

Telltale signs of bed bugs are rusty or dark spots of excrement on sheets and mattresses, bedding, or walls. At the beginning of an infestation the bugs are most likely to be seen in the folds, seams, and tufts of mattresses and bed covers, but can hide in cracks in the floor, furniture, or wall. They have also been found under carpets and behind baseboards and moldings, window and door casings, pictures, and loosened wallpaper. Bed bugs are brown (red after feeding), about the size of an apple seed (1/4" to 3/8" inches long), oval shaped, and look something like a wood tick. Young bed bugs are translucent except after feeding.

For more information about how to control this pest, see Bed Bugs available from the Texas Department of Agriculture's Household Insects page or the Fact Sheet from the Ohio State University Extension Service. Color pictures of the bugs and their wastes are available from the University of Minnesota's Traveler Q & A: Preventing Bed Bugs From Hitchhiking to Your Home.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

LBJ Centennial

On August 27, 1908 Lyndon Baines Johnson was born in Stonewall, Texas. To help celebrate his centennial, the staff of the LBJ Library has prepared a brief pictorial history of this "Great Society" President, matching dates and pictures to the most important events of his life. A Web site commemorating his birthday includes a calendar of celebrations and events being held in Texas and Washington, D.C. in his honor through the end of the year. For a more detailed history of his life and that of his wife, Lady Bird, visit online or in person the LBJ Library and Museum at the University of Texas in Austin.

Dreams Come True?

On Aug. 28, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C. Forty-five years later on Aug. 28, 2008 Senator Barack Obama, author of Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, will accept the Democratic presidential nomination.

To learn more about Martin Luther King Jr. including links to his speeches, access the American Memory Collection from the Library of Congress, or the Martin Luther King Jr., Research and Education Institute, or the King Center. To read Senator Obama's biography, access the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Creeping Dead Zones

Scarier at the moment to fish than to humans but of increasing concern to all, dead zones are areas of the ocean along coasts with low levels of oxygen at the sea floor. Many dead zones are occurring near the mouths of major river systems when fertilizer run-off, especially during flooding, supplies nutrients to phytoplankton which multiply rapidly. Organic matter produced by phytoplankton sinks to the bottom of the ocean where bacteria break it down. The bacteria use oxygen in the process and release carbon dioxide, depleting available supplies of oxygen needed by other forms of aquatic life.

To learn more about dead zones, access Creeping Dead Zones by NASA's Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center. The site includes satellite views of dead zones, a world map of dead zones, and links to further information.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Higher Education Act Debate

In a July 30, 2008 press release, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings indicated support for many provisions contained in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that recently made its way through Congress and is awaiting the president's signature. However, she expressed concern about "the creation of more than 60 new, costly, and duplicative programs." She also felt that the legislation "falls short on strengthening accountability."

The complete bill, H.R. 4137, is available at http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h110-4137. To see other versions of the bill, access the "Full Text on THOMAS" link from the Library of Congress on the left side of that page.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Hurricane and Flood Information

As tropical storms and hurricanes make their presence known in the Gulf Coast area, helpful information is available from three government sites. Two branches of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are especially useful when the skies are stormy. NOAA's National Weather Service makes a quick visual survey of weather easy with its map of the United States color-coded for various weather conditions. It also offers links to weather-related RSS feeds and warnings by state or city. The service even offers an experimental UV Alert Forecast Map.

NOAA's National Hurricane Center also offers hurricane advisories and local forecasts available by city or zip code. You can even sign up to receive hurricane advisories on your cell phone. Their hurricane awareness page contains online guides, brochures, and miscellaneous current and historical hurricane-related information including some written in Spanish.

On the local level the Harris County Flood Control District has "full and lite" versions of hurricane trackers to download. You can use their floodplain mapping tool to find out if you live in or near a floodplain, and their flood preparedness link to "learn facts that could save your life." The site also contains information about who needs flood insurance.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

al-Qa'ida's Foreign Fighters in Iraq

The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has released its second report about al-Qa'ida's foreign fighters in Iraq. Entitled Bombers, Bank Accounts, and Bleedout: al-Qa`ida's Road in and Out of Iraq, the report expands on the analysis contained in the first report and introduces "a host of new data" about suicide bombers, fighters, funding sources and expenditures, and ties to other groups.

Major new findings summarized by Professor Sawyer of West Point (GovDoc-L 28 Jul 2008) include:
Foreign Fighters were an important source of funds for AQI; Saudi Fighters contributed far more money than any other nationality.

Far more Syrians and Egyptians are held at Camp Bucca than were listed in the Sinjar Records, which likely reflects the demographic shift away from those nationalities.

Approximately 75% of suicide bombings in Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007 can be attributed to fighters listed in the Sinjar Records.

"Bleedout" of fighters from Iraq is occurring, but in relatively small numbers. Nonetheless, these individual fighters will likely be well-trained and very dangerous. The primary threat from these fighters is to Arab states, Af-Pak, and perhaps Somalia.

Smuggling of all kinds across the Syrian/Iraqi border has long been linked to corruption in both Syria and Iraq, which limits both government's ability to crackdown.

Fighters that contributed money to AQI were more likely to become suicide bombers.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Nuclear Threat to Electronic Communications Sytems

The Commission to Assess the Threat to United States from
Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack
has released its latest report entitled Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack: Critical National Infrastructure. According to the report:
The electromagnetic pulse generated by a high altitude nuclear explosion is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences. The increasingly pervasive use of electronics of all forms represents the greatest source of vulnerability to attack by EMP. Electronics are used to control, communicate, compute, store, manage, and implement nearly every aspect of United States (U.S.) civilian systems. When a nuclear explosion occurs at high altitude, the EMP signal it produces will cover the wide geographic region within the line of sight of the detonation.1 This broad band, high amplitude EMP, when coupled into sensitive electronics, has the capability to produce widespread and long lasting disruption and damage to the critical infrastructures that underpin the fabric of U.S. society.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Minimum Wage Increase

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 2007, the minimum wage increases to $6.55 an hour effective today, July 24, 2008. On July 24, 2009, the minimum wage will rise to $7.25 an hour, the third and final increase dictated by FLSA.

For more information, see Compliance Assistance - Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Social Security Estimator

The Social Security Administration released a new easier online calculator on July 21, 2008. According to the news release, the Retirement Estimator is tied to a person's Social Security record, thus eliminating the need to type earnings information from past years. A person can print up to three different scenarios at a time to see what payments would be for retiring, for example, at age 62, full retirement age, or age 70. The system is secure since it only provides retirement benefit estimates while not revealing earnings records or personal information.

The calculator works best for those approaching retirement since it requires predicting future earnings which is harder to do for younger workers who are a long way from retirement. However, it does give younger workers valuable information to help in planning and saving for eventual retirement.

The Social Security Administration is also planning to introduce another time-saving feature in the fall, a new online application form that will reduce filing time from 45 minutes to about 15 minutes.

Monday, July 14, 2008

According to a July 10, 2008 press release, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs held a seventh hearing on Islamist radicalization and homegrown terrorism. Witnesses including Maajid Nawaz, a former leader of the United Kingdom's Hizb uut-Tahrir now working as a counterterrorist, "outlined steps that should be taken to identify, isolate and ultimately eliminate the threat of homegrown terrorism and the ideology that supports it." Committee Chairman, Joe Liberman, said, "We must better understand the roots of Islamist ideology so we can better guide our international, national and local efforts to counter its spread under its many different names, whether it is Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hizb ut-Tharir, the Muslim Brotherhood, or other splinter groups that promote the ideology."

The House also addressed this topic in its Rept. 110-384 Pt. 1, Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (Oct. 16, 2007). One of the nine points made in the report addresses who might be a terrorist: "Individuals prone to violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence span all races, ethnicities, and religious beliefs, and individuals should not be targeted based solely on race, ethnicity, or religion."

The act recommends establishing a National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Ideologically Based Violence. First among the Commission's charges is to "Examine and report upon the facts and causes of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in the United States, including United States connections to non-United States persons and networks, violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in prison, individual or `lone wolf' violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence, and other faces of the phenomena of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence that the Commission considers important." View the latest status on the progress of the act through Congress.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

National War Powers Commission Report

The National War Powers Commission co-chaired by former Secretaries of State James A. Baker, III and Warren Christopher recommended in a report released on July 8, 2008 that Congress repeal the War Powers Resolution of 1973 "and substitute a new statute that would provide for more meaningful consultation between the president and Congress on matters of war."

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Two Iraq Reports Now Available

The Rand Corporation just released a report analyzing the planning and execution of combat and stability operations in Iraq. Conducted for the U.S. Army, the report begins with prewar planning, revealing that while many government agencies and organizations "identified a range of potential postwar challenges and suggested strategies for addressing them" before the invasion of Iraq, two sets of assumptions by officials in the highest levels of government undermined those suggestions: 1. many senior government policymakers were optimistic about "conditions that would emerge after major combat concluded" and overrode counterarguments, and 2. senior military commanders thought that civilians would be responsible for the postwar period. The report also looks at the role of U.S. military forces after initial combat ended on May 1, 2003 through June 2004, and civilian reconstruction efforts. Both the June 30, 2008 press release and the report entitled After Saddam: Postwar Planning and the Occupation of Iraq are available online. (The report is also available in paper.) This report is one of an eight-volume set analyzing combat and stability planning and execution in Iraq. Six of the volumes are classified; a seventh volume, in process, will be unclassified.

The conduct of the war in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein is the subject of another report just released by the Combat Studies Institute Press at Fort Leavenworth. Entitled The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom, May 2003-January 2005: On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign, the report "examines both the high-level decisions that shaped military operations after May 2003 as well as the effects of those decisions on units and Soldiers who became responsible for conducting those operations." A print copy is also available from the Government Printing Office. A review of the report is available from History News.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Recycled Interrogation Methods

The New York Times revealed in a July 2 article entitled "China Inspired Interrogations at Guantánamo," that interrogation methods used by the Chinese on American prisoners of war during the Korean War were imitated by our military trainers in Guantanamo Bay. Congressional hearings have expressed concerns about using such methods. On July 26, 2007, for example, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s S. HRG. 110-257 entitled Extraordinary Rendition, Extraterritorial Detention and Treatment of Detainees: Restoring Our Moral Credibility and Strengthening Our Diplomatic Standing contains statements from Senators Biden and Feingold denouncing such techniques. Likewise Senator Leahy in the Judiciary Committee’s S.HRG. 110-299 entitled Preserving the Rule of Law in the Fight Against Terrorism, Oct. 2, 2007 denounced similar methods used in Abu Ghraib: “. . . the terrible abuses of Abu Ghraib, which stained us as a country and which were the direct results of a lack of clarity and restraint in the rules of interrogation.”

How do we as a country find an effective yet moral way to gain necessary intelligence, a method showing clarity and restraint? The Intelligence Science Board of the National Defense Intelligence College has been grappling with better ways to solicit information. Its Dec. 2006 Phase 1 report entitled Educing Information, Interrogation: Science and Art, Foundations for the Future, covers a wide variety of subjects such as evaluating intelligence detection devices, the costs and benefits of interrogation, behavior science lessons learned from educing information, and challenges in developing a new educing information paradigm.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"Hot" Tomatoes

"Should I eat that juicy red tomato in my salad?" is a question many people are asking themselves right now. Salmonellosis Outbreak in Certain Types of Tomato by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives information about the types of tomatoes involved in the recent Samonella outbreak (raw red plum, red Roma, round red tomatoes). It also lists the areas/states still considered safe for raw tomato consumption. (Texas is considered safe.) To date cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes with the vine still attached have not been linked with the disease.

Symptoms of Salmonellosis, the infection caused by the Samonella bacteria, are diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps appearing 12 to 72 hours after infection. Most people do not need hospitalization for the disease which usually lasts 4 to 7 days and is normally treated with fluids and rest under a doctor's care. However, if the diarrhea becomes severe the patient may need hospitalization and treatment with antibiotics. Most at risk are the elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems.

Measures listed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to prevent Samonella contamination are:
  • Cook poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly. Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs, or raw (unpasteurized) milk.
  • If you are served undercooked meat, poultry or eggs in a restaurant, don't hesitate to send it back to the kitchen for further cooking.
  • Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
  • Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.
  • Wash hands with soap after handling reptiles, birds, or baby chicks, and after contact with pet feces.
  • Avoid direct or even indirect contact between reptiles (turtles, iguanas, other lizards, snakes) and infants or immunocompromised persons.
  • Don't work with raw poultry or meat, and an infant (e.g., feed, change diaper) at the same time.
  • Mother's milk is the safest food for young infants. Breastfeeding prevents salmonellosis and many other health problems.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

White House/Presidents Quiz

With the U.S. Presidential race constantly in the news, how much do you know about past Presidents and the White House? The White House Kids page has an assortment of quizzes aimed to test your knowledge of the White House and its inhabitants. For example, can you answer the following questions? (answers at the end)

1. Who was the only president to get married in the White House?

2. What did Lydia Darrah do to help George Washington's troops at Valley Forge?

3. Which President inspired the March of Dimes?

4. Who was the first President to dedicate a new baseball stadium?

5. President Ronald Reagan was the broadcaster for which baseball team?

1. Grover Cleveland
2. Provided intelligence about the British troops
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
4. Lyndon B. Johnson – Astrodome – April 9, 1965
5. Chicago Cubs

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Salaries of Federal Employees

Are you interested in pursuing a career with a federal agency? Now you can find out from the Federal Employees database the salaries of various federal employees with the exception of those who work in secure areas such as the FBI, CIA, or Defense Department. You can look up the salary of a particular individual or of a category of workers in a particular locale.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Poet Laureates

When questioned by a reporter, John McCain recently had to admit he didn't know who the poet laureate of the United States or of Arizona is. It would be interesting to see how many members of the general public know that Charles Simic, an immigrant from Yugoslavia who didn't speak English until he was 15, is the current U.S. Poet Laureate. While Arizona does not have a poet laureate, Larry D. Thomas of Houston is the 2008 Texas Poet Laureate. A list of Texas Poet Laureates from 1932 onward is available from The Handbook of Texas Online. Information about U.S. Poet Laureates from 1937 onward is available from the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

2008 Education Statistics

According to "The Condition of Education 2008," an annual report published by the National Center for Education Statistics, the nation's student body is becoming more diverse while school enrollment is at an all-time high. At the college level, the largest growth area for enrollment was from women and minority students. However, Hispanic students were underrepresented among the minorities. The report indicates that only 34 percent of Hispanics aged 25 to 29 completed some college as of 2007 compared to 50 percent of black and 66 percent of white U.S. residents. Hispanics born outside the United States are three times more likely to lack a high-school diploma than those from families who have lived in the United States a generation or more.

More college and advanced degrees are being awarded as of 2005-2006 compared with ten years earlier including 28 percent more bachelor's and associate degrees, 46 percent more master's degrees, and 26 percent more doctorates. The most popular undergraduate majors included business, social sciences and history, and education. At the master's level the greatest number of degrees were conferred for the fields of education and business while at the doctoral level education, engineering, health professions and related clinical sciences, biological and biomedical sciences, and psychology were the most popular.

Earnings of young adults with degrees are still greater than their peers without degrees. In 2005 males with a bachelor’s or higher degree earned 64 percent more than their peers who only completed high school compared to 19 percent more in 1980.

At the elementary and secondary level public school enrollment increased. Public school elementary enrollment is expected to increase annually through 2016, while public secondary enrollment should be about 2 percent higher in 2016 than in 2007 after experiencing a decrease of 2 percent between 2007 and 2011

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

EPA Libraries Return Diminished in Size

According to a May 21, 2008 News Release from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the EPA, responding to an order by Congress to re-open its closed libraries, will re-open four libraries effective September first. However, space allocated to the libraries will be considerably diminished unless plans change. For example, the Chicago regional library which serves the six-state Great Lakes area will occupy a vacant reception area on the 16th floor of a federal building that is one-tenth the size of its former area; the Dallas regional library serving five states will operate 6 hours a day 4 days a week using 2 staff workstations and 1 patron work station.

The EPA has more information about its current library services and repositories on its National Library Network page.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Postage Rate Increase

On May 12, 2008 the price for postal services increased once more making the "Forever Stamp" an even better value. A detailed explanation of the new prices and extra services and fees is available at http://www.usps.com/rates/ . New rates include the following:

  • First-Class Letter, 1 oz. - $0.42
  • First-Class Letter, 2 oz. - $0.59
  • Each additional ounce - $0.17
  • Postcard - $0.27
  • First-Class large envelope, 1 oz. - $0.83
  • First-Class large envelope, 2 oz. - $1.00
  • Each additional ounce - $0.17
  • First-Class Parcel, 1 oz. - $1.17
  • Each additional ounce - $0.17
  • Letters, non-machinable surcharge - $0.20
  • First-Class, International to Canada and Mexico, 1 oz. - $0.72
  • First-Class, International to All other Countries, 1 oz. - $0.94

The US Postal Service also has a handy Postage Price Calculator to determine the exact cost of mailing your domestic and international postcards, letters, large envelopes, packages, and large (12x12x12+) packages.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Population Potpourri

The May 1, 2008 edition of the U.S. Census Bureau News reveals that the U.S. Hispanic population of 45 million is now the largest minority group nationwide comprising 15 percent of the total population. Next are Black Americans (40.7 million), Asian Americans (15.2 million), American Indians and Alaska Natives (4.5 million), and Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders (1 million). The total number of White Americans is 199.1 million.

States with the largest number of older Americans include Florida, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania while Alaska, Utah, and Georgia have the fewest. States with the largest number of preschoolers include Utah, Texas, and Idaho while Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire have the fewest. The white population is older than the population as a whole. About 25 percent of the total population is under 18, while only 21 percent of whites are younger than 18.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Hospital Rating Service

The United States Department of Health and Human Services has created Hospital Compare to provide feedback from patients about the quality of adult health care received at participating hospitals for a specified range of conditions or procedures. The site is especially useful to Medicare patients who are able to look up specific participating hospitals and find out how many Medicare patients were treated there for certain conditions as well as the amount Medicare paid the hospitals for those procedures. It is possible to search for a hospital in a specific area or across the nation as well as for those that treat certain conditions such as heart attacks or diabetes, or perform certain procedures such as angioplasty, heart bypass, back and neck operations, and hysterectomies.

Friday, May 02, 2008

North Deer Island Sanctuary

The 144-acre North Deer Island is one of few remaining natural islands in Galveston Bay and an excellent location for bird watching. Several species of endangered birds (such as Roseate Spoonbills) use the island as breeding and nesting grounds. Recently, a major North Deer Island restoration and conservation project was completed.

In Janurary 2006, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) received a grant of over $1.2 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore wildlife habitats on the island and prevent erosion. Many organizations partnered with TPWD to provide further financial backing, including the part owners of the island, the Houston and Texas branches of the Audubon Society.

For more information about North Deer Island, including information about tours, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Reconstruction Progress in Iraq

The latest (April 30, 2008) State Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) ) quarterly report is now available. The report details how the $46 billion for relief and reconstruction allocated to Iraq since April 2003 has been spent. It also provides information about "the top five projects in each construction sector, the top contractors by income, an overview of reconstruction management, and SIGIR's new audits and inspections." One bit of good news is that Iraq's revenue income should be around $70 billion for 2008 which is twice the expected amount.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Celebrate Earth Day

From NASA Visible Earth (http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/)

On Earth Day 2008, Tuesday, April 22, people around the world are celebrating events promoting environmental friendliness. The following sites provide ideas about how to commemorate the day and take part in saving the environment:

  • Earth Day 2008 Events Worldwide (earthdaynetwork) -- Campaigns, education, and outreach.

  • EnviroLink Network. -- Comprehensive list of world-wide Earth Day events "regardless of size, geographic location or organizational affiliation."

  • Sun-Earth Day: 2008 -- NASA.gov list of world-wide celebrations for the IHY (International Heliophysical Year) concentrating on this year's theme of space weather around the world.

  • Celebrate Earth Day -- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency site with podcasts, environmental tips, and ideas to use at home, in the community, at school, at work, and while shopping.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Infant Abuse in the U.S.

In its MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report) newsletter of April 4, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a shocking report about abuse of infants in the United States in federal fiscal year 2006 (Oct. 2005 - Sept. 2006). Data collected by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) for infants who were reported to the Child Protective Services (CPS) system indicated the greatest risk for maltreatment by parents or caregivers occurs during the first week of life followed by the first month. A total of 91,278 infants under age one (23.2 per 1,000 population) and 29,881 (32.7%) age one week or less experienced nonfatal maltreatment. When sorted by race, 43.6% victims were white, 25.2% were black or African American, 19.3% were Hispanic, 1.3% were American Indian or Alaska Native, 0.6% were Asian, 3.1% had multiple race/ethnicity, and 6.9% were of unknown race/ethnicity. More infants were mistreated because of neglect (68.5%) than of physical abuse (13.2%). Medical personnel were the top reporters of abuse (60.8%) followed by law enforcement personnel (21.4%), social services personnel (15.1%), parents/other relatives (8.8%), and friends/neighbors (3.2%).

In addition to the report, the CDC has released a transcript of a web cast about this story that gives further information about the statistics, the problem, and possible solutions.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Congress in the Classroom

If you are a middle school or high school social studies teacher, this is an exciting year to apply to attend the Dirksen Congressional Center's Congress in the Classroom education program at the Hotel Pere Marquette in Peoria, Illinois, Monday, July 21 - Thursday, July 24. April 15 is the deadline to apply (online application) for the program which features sessions focusing on recent research about both congressional and presidential elections and ways to teach students about Congress and elections. Those selected for the program will receive three nights lodging, workshop materials, local transportation, and all but three meals, but must pay a non-refundable $135 registration fee and transportation costs to and from the event.

A small sampling of the proposed sessions include the following:

  • Where We Stand in the Presidential Race and What to Look For
    Tim Teehan, National Sales Director, Campaigns and Elections.
  • "I’m No Lady, I’m a Member of Congress": Women in Congress, 1917-2006
    Kathleen Johnson, Historical Publications Specialist, Office of History and Preservation, House of Representatives
  • Teaching with Primary Sources
    Cindy Rich, Project Director, Teaching with Primary Sources, Eastern Illinois University.
  • Predicting the Outcome of the Presidential Election
    Frank H. Mackaman, The Dirksen Congressional Center

See the Dirksen Center Web site for a complete listing and further information.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008

On April 2 Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) (Chair) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) (Ranking Member) of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs announced a bipartisan agreement to address the current U.S. housing crisis. Provisions of their proposed Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008 include:

  • providing counseling for those threatened with foreclosure
  • helping communities deal with abandoned or foreclosed properties
  • reforming the Federal Housing Administration to make available "affordable, safe, and government-back loans"

For a description of additional provisions, access the announcement on Senator Dodd's Web site. For discussion about the bill, access a March 31 article in U.S. News and World Report entitled "Senators Set to Debate Housing Crisis", or listen to "Senate Debates Bill Aimed at Curbing Foreclosures" on the April 3 morning edition of NPR (National Public Radio).

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Economic Stimulus Payments Help on 3/29/08

Saturday, March 29, 2008 the IRS is holding “Super Saturday” to give people an opportunity to learn how to apply for the much publicized economic stimulus payments. Many IRS locations will be open especially to help those who are normally exempt (low-wage workers, disabled veterans, retirees on a limited income) from filing a tax return. According to the IRS to receive a payment, taxpayers must have a valid Social Security number and $3,000 of income. They must also file a 2007 federal tax return. The IRS states, “Those eligible for payments will receive up to $600 ($1,200 for married couples), and parents will receive an additional $300 for each eligible child younger than 17.” For more information check with the above linked locations (call first to be sure a particular office is open), or call the helpline at 1-800-906-9887. The IRS has also created an Economic Stimulus Payments Information Center, a Frequently Asked Questions link, and an Economic Stimulus Payment Calculator.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Passport Concerns

The Washington Times, is currently running (March 26-28, 2008) a three-part series about the outsourcing of U.S. passports. The Government Printing Office (GPO) addresses concerns raised by this series in a press release dated March 26, 2008.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Foreclosures - Historical Background

Now that foreclosures are a topic of interest due to the subprime mortgage crisis, FRASER (Federal Reserve Archival System for Economic Research) has posted annual reports and other documents related to the Federal Home Loan Bank between 1933 and 1952. Included are reports of other entities that were part of the Federal Home Loan Bank including "the Federal Savings and Loan Corporation created as part of the National Housing Act of 1934 and abolished in 1989; the Home Owners' Loan Corporation created by the Home Owners' Refinancing Act in 1933 and liquidated in 1951, and the Federal Savings and Loan System or Division."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Census 2010 Budget Problems

According to testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Census Bureau is facing potential delays and a huge budget increase for the 2010 census due to problems with a contract to develop handheld computers for collecting data. Estimates for the budget increase range from $600 million to $2 billion. The report, Information Technology: Significant Problems of Critical Automation Program Contribute to Risks Facing 2010 Census, states that the GAO (General Accounting Office) recommended the Census Bureau:
  • strengthen its systems testing and risk management activities,
  • define specific measurable performance requirements for the handheld mobile computing device, and
  • develop an integrated and comprehensive plan to control its costs and manage operations.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

American Heroes

In 1861 Abraham Lincoln created the National Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military recognition for valor. On March 25, 2008 the spirit of that medal lives on as the Congressional Medal of Honor Society recognizes 51 Americans representing their respective states and the District of Columbia with Above & Beyond Awards. These Americans, whose names will be announced soon, embody courage, sacrifice, integrity, patriotism, commitment and citizenship. More information about this prestigious award is available from the Above & Beyond site as is a list of previous medal of honor winners. The site also contains information about how to nominate deserving individuals from your neighborhood for next year’s award.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Texas Two Step

If you vote as a Democrat in the primary tomorrow, March 4, 2008, in a sense you have a chance to vote twice. First, your vote gets counted in selecting the 126 delegates who come from the popular vote. Second, if you attend the caucus at 7:15 p.m. or whenever the last voter casts a ballot, you have a chance to participate in selecting an additional 67 delegates. To participate in the caucus, bring either your stamped voter registration certificate or a certificate obtained when you voted to prove in which party you cast your vote. (In other words, only if you voted as a Democrat can you participate in the Democratic caucus.) You can find the location of your caucus (Democratic or Republican) which is also your election-day precinct polling location by entering either your precinct number or your address or your name and address in the Harris Votes Find Your Voting Info page available as a pull-down choice from the Voting Information tab. The page also includes a sample ballot.

If you vote as a Republican, on the other hand, the traditional primary system prevails in which delegate votes reflect the popular vote. Both the Democratic and Republican precinct meetings, however, give attendees a chance to select people to attend the March 29 senatorial district conventions where delegates are chosen to attend the state convention. At the state convention delegates for the national convention are selected.

The Democratic State Convention will be held in Austin on June 5-7 while the Republican State Convention will meet in Houston on June 12-14. The Democratic National Convention will be held in Denver on Aug. 25-28 while the Republican National Convention will meet in Minneapolis-St. Paul on Sept. 1-4.

For a more detailed explanation of the whole election process see the Texas State Teacher's Political Convention Process page or access the Web sites of the the Texas Republican Party or the Texas Democratic Party .

On election day, March 4, the Houston League of Women Voters has teamed with KRPC Channel 2 to offer a helpline at 713-271-1905. Their Voter Guide March 2008 is also available online with information about candidates' positions on key issues.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Happy Birthday George Washington

As the political campaigns heat up, today is a good time to reflect on the life of our first president, George Washington, born Feb. 22, 1732. The events of his presidency are reflected in the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress 1741-1799 and in the University of Virginia's The Papers of George Washington. A time line of important happenings in the lives of George and Martha Washington is available from the American Memory collection of the Library of Congress. Views of their Mount Vernon estate and gardens are posted online by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, a private, non-profit organization founded in 1853.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

State Legislation About Immigration

The National Conference of State Legislatures has released a report entitled 2007 Enacted State Legislation Related to Immigrants and Immigration. It includes a chart showing that all but nine states enacted some kind of immigration legislation in 2007. It covers legislation from the following main topics: education, employment, health, human trafficking, ID/driver's licenses/other licenses, law enforcement, legal services, miscellaneous, comprehensive measures, public benefits, voting, and resolutions. Under each topic is a list of states that have passed legislation related to that topic as well as a brief description of the legislation.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Early Voting - March 4 Primary Elections

Early voting for the March 4, 2008 Democratic and Republican Primary Election for residents of Harris County is available from Feb. 19 - Feb. 29. An early voting schedule/map detailing times and locations and early voting questions/answers are available from Harris Votes (click on the Voting Information tab at the top far left). Another choice available from the Voting Information tab is "Find your voting information." After selecting a party, you can enter one of three things (your precinct, your address, or your name and address) to display your election day polling address and to view a sample ballot. Finally, if you are not sure you are registered to vote, check the Harris County Voter Registration Database and read the directions carefully.

To help you make informed choices, the Houston Area League of Women Voters has created a Voter's Guide for the March 4 primary elections.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

To Take or not to Take - Ask TSA

Are you nervous when you fly that the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) will pull you aside for trying to bring something illegal on the plane? The guide on the TSA Web page has been helpful, but many people have additional questions that are not covered on that page. The TSA has now started a blog that addresses a wide range of topics from rumors about electronics to why searching military personnel is necessary to qualifications for being a TSA officer. It's a good site to check before your next flight.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

FAFSA Deadline Approaching

If you would like to apply for financial aid for college, a good place to start is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Although this is the federal application for financial aid, it is also used to apply for aid from states and schools. Prospective Rice University students should consult the Student Financial Services calendar about FAFSA deadlines for early admission (March 1, 2008) and regular admission candidates (March 1, 2008).

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

FY 2009 Budget of the United States Government

The Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2009 is now available online from the United States Government Printing Office (GPO). The budget is a collection of documents containing the President's budget message, information about the President's budget proposals for a given fiscal year, and other budgetary publications that have been issued throughout the fiscal year. Supporting documents such as the Economic Report of the President are also included. For the first time GPO and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have worked together to create a digitally signed and certified PDF (Portable Document Format) to assure users of the authenticity of the electronic PDF documents. Tables in the budget can be downloaded as PDFs or as spreadsheets in xls and comma delimited formats.

Paper and CD-ROM copies of the budget will be distributed this month to depository libraries and are also available for purchase from the U.S. Government Online Bookstore.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Register to Vote in Texas Primary Elections by Feb. 4

The Texas Democratic and Republican Primary elections are March 4, 2008. To vote you must be registered at least 30 days before that date or by February 4. (As mentioned in Monday's blog, a list indicating primary election dates for each state is available from the United States Election Assistance Commission.)

On the Rice campus, the Rice Vote Coalition has voter registration tables set up in the RMC during lunch this Thursday and Friday (January 31- February 1, 2008). You may also pick up a mail-in form in Fondren Library's Kelley Center for Government Information and Microforms (Fondren basement) or go to the Harris County Tax Office Voter Registration Web site and download an application form. Remember, however, that the application must be postmarked by February 4. Another choice for those in Harris County is to register in person at the following locations:
  • Any of the 16 area Tax Offices
  • Texas Health and Human Services Commission
  • Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services
  • Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services
  • Texas Department of State Health Services
  • Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)
  • Each public library
  • Each marriage license office of the county clerk

For absentee voting, click on the state or territory of your legal voting residence from the table made available by the Federal Voting Assistance Program . You can download a document with deadlines, forms, and instructions. Texans may also check the Secretary of State's Early Voting page for mail and in-person deadlines.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Challenger 22nd Anniversary

On January 28, 1986 after many successful missions, the Challenger Space Shuttle disintegrated 1 minute 13 seconds after launch leaving the nation mourning for astronauts Ellison Onizuka, Greg Jarvia, Judy Resnik, Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ron McNair, and teacher-in-space (Sharon) Christa McAuliffe. For more information about the Challenger, see NASA Web pages including the Challenger Background and the Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident (commonly called the Rogers Commission Report). The address to the nation that President Reagan gave instead of his intended State of the Union Address is also available as part of the American Presidency Project .

2008 Primary Dates

Are you unsure when your state's Democratic and Republican primary elections will be held? (Texas primaries are on March 4.) The Elections Assistance Commission has created a 2008 State Primary Dates Web page to keep you informed. The site also contains links for overseas citizens and military voters, for registering to vote online, for becoming a poll worker, and for research, resources, and reports. Spanish, Japanese, and Korean translations are available.

To help you make an informed decision, the League of Women Voters has made available online their Primary Election 2008 Voters Guide. For more election information and links, consult Fondren Library's elections page.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Texas Cooking

Did you know some Texas agencies release recipe books?

Check your local Texas State Depository Library for these titles:
  • Selected recipes from the Sebastolpol kitchen: Sebastopol House State Historic Site
  • Cooking with fruits and vegetables: recipes for every kitchen (also available in Spanish)
  • The Go-Go Texan recipe and idea book

Plus, the Texas Parks and Wildlife website features wild game cooking tips and recipes, from Venison Stew to Texas Bandera Smoked Quail Egg Rolls.

Also, the Lone Star Dutch Oven Society demonstrates cooking with dutch ovens (the Official Cookware of Texas) at state parks on Feburary 2:
  • Mission Tejas State Park: "Dutch Oven Cooking," 9 a.m.-noon
  • Tyler State Park: "Dutch Oven Cooking Demonstration, " 10 a.m-11 a.m.
For more information, see the Texas Parks and Wildlife calendar.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr. Events

On November 3, 1983 President Reagan signed a bill that established the 3rd Monday of every January as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday (starting with 1986). Today there are many options for celebrating this holiday.

Two parades mark the celebration in Houston. At 10 a.m. the Black Heritage Society's 30th anniversary parade begins at Capitol and Jackson near Minute Maid Park. Call 713-236-1700 for more information. At 2 p.m. the 14th annual MLK Grande Parade will start on Allen Parkway just east of Taft. Call 713-953-1633 for more information.

On the Rice University campus, the Black Student Association is hosting an annual Martin Luther King Jr. candlelight vigil at 5:30 p.m. in Ray's Courtyard at the Rice Memorial Center. The keynote speaker will be Judson Robinson II, the new president and CEO of the Houston Area Urban League. At 5:45 the vigil will move to the chapel and proceed from there to a reception at approximately 6:15. The event is free and open to the public.

Those who do not want to brave the cold rainy weather still have options for commemorating the holiday. The Martin Luther King Jr., Research and Education Institute Web site contains audio excerpts of his sermons and speeches, a biography, an encyclopedia, a document inventory, and information about purchasing compilations of his papers. This year the institute also held a screening of a documentary film clip in Beijing about Passages of Martin Luther King and presented Call to Conscience awards to the National Theater of China and to Teachers 4 Social Justice.

The King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, established by his wife, Coretta Scott King, also offers books, audio and video cassettes, film, television, CDs and web pages to educate people about Dr. King’s life and nonviolent methods aimed at achieving social change.

Dr. King's biography, speeches, and pictures of the places associated with his life are available too through the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress. (Use the search box to retrieve a comprehensive listing of links related to Dr. King.)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Going Green

Do you have a desire to be more environmentally friendly, but don't know where to start? The EPA has an online pamphlet, GreenScaping: the Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard. The pamphlet explains five steps for creating a healthier, more beautiful, and environmentally-friendly lawn and garden:

  1. Build and maintain a healthy soil
  2. Plant right for your site
  3. Practice smart watering
  4. Adopt a holistic approach to pest management
  5. Practice natural lawn care

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Exclusively Digital

Now that the countdown to a new year has passed, another countdown looms. If you have not bought a new television set lately and are enjoying your old analog set(s), be prepared to go digital by Feb. 19, 2009. That is the target date set by the U.S. Government to begin “digital only” broadcasting.

In order to help with the transition from analog to digital, the Federal Communications Commission has established a Web site, http://www.dtv.gov/. The site includes a FAQ (no, you do not have to buy a High Definition DTV) and a glossary to help you understand digital technology.

The best news, however, is that consumers will still be able to use their old analog televisions with the help of a converter box. The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is making available to every U.S. household two coupons, worth $40 each, to be used at the time of purchase for eligible digital-to-analog converter boxes that will sell for an estimated $50 to $70 each. More information about the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program is available from www.ntia.doc.gov/dtvcoupon or by calling 1-888-388-2009 (voice) or 1-877-530-2634 (TTY). Consumers may request the coupons starting January 1, 2008.

The National Association of Broadcasters has also established a Web site, DTV Answers, to ensure that consumers are informed and prepared for the federally mandated transition from analog to digital broadcasting on Feb. 19, 2009.