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.