Saturday, May 30, 2009

Research with DataFerrett, a free data mining and extraction tool developed by the U.S. Census Bureau

Logo of the American Community Survey, a proje...Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
FGI- Free Government Information

Submitted by justgrimes on Sat, 2009-05-30

DataFerrett (Federated Electronic Research, Review, Extraction, and Tabulation Tool) is a free data mining and extraction tool developed by the U.S. Census Bureau that allows users to search, browse, combine, tabulate, recode, and analyze statistical data from a network of online data libraries. The DataFerret software can be downloaded from the website or ran in the browser via a java applet.

Some material to read before getting started:
DataFerret Brochure
Getting Starting with DataFerrett Tour
DataFerret User Guide

Available data sets included:

  • American Community Survey (ACS)
    American Housing Survey (AHS)
    Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)
    Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES)
    County Business Patterns (CBP)
    Current Population Survey (CPS)
    Decennial Census of Population and Housing
    Harvard-MIT Data Center Collection
    Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA)
    Local Employment Dynamics (LED)
    National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS)
    National Center for Health Statistics Mortality (MORT)
    National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HANES)
    National Health Interview Survey (NHIS)
    National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS)
    National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife (FHWAR)
    Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE)
    Social Security Administration (SSA)
    Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)
    Survey of Program Dynamics (SPD)

DataFerret is a wonderful tool for exploring and analyzing data. Enjoy!

(found via Open Access News)

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, May 29, 2009

Taxpayers are getting less back than promised from economic bailout, with inadequate transparency with the program

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 9:  (L-R) Former Freddie...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
TCS- Taxpayers for Common Sense

Volume XIV No. 22: May 29, 2009
Picture: Former CEOs of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before Congress.

Cha-Ching! That’s the sound you’ve heard over the last several months as about 600 companies walked away from the federal cash register, their pockets stuffed with wads of cash. We’ve never been too thrilled with how the economic bailout has been implemented, but now, eight months in, more problems are emerging. Taxpayers are getting less back than promised, transparency has barely increased and the program seems to be turning into a revolving loan fund without Congressional scrutiny.

Since the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was created in the fall, about $600 billion has been committed to supporting the financial sector, leaving about $100 billion to go. Throw in the money promised to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the price tag hits $1.1 trillion. And we’re not even counting the Fed’s commitment to shore up financial institutions.

Most of the TARP money is going to banks through the Capital Purchase Program (CPP), under which banks receive money in exchange for preferred stock, theoretically enabling them to maintain or increase lending.

As more and more eyes scrutinize the way the bailout dollars are being used, many concerns arise. First, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Treasury paid $356 billion more to banks than the value of assets received in exchange – a 51% subsidy rate.

Treasury recently completed a series of “stress tests” on 19 of the country’s largest banks to determine whether TARP was indeed helping them avoiding shutting down. While Treasury’s view of the test results was optimistic, the banks could lose $599 billion by the end of 2010 under the worst case scenario. Also, Treasury is requiring 10 of the banks to raise billions in additional capital to shore up their balance sheets. But by requiring banks to bolster their capital cushions, some banks may reduce lending – the opposite of the Bailout’s goal. And for those banks unable to meet the capital goals, Uncle Sam may become their owner.

Other banks are considering getting out of the TARP game altogether, and some have already bought back their stock and warrants. Initially the public was led to believe that we might actually profit from TARP investments after the economic dust settled. But it looks like Treasury is content with taxpayers swallowing all of that $356 billion overpayment. Warrants that were part of most of the TARP deals represent the Treasury’s potential for profit. A warrant holder has the right to purchase a company’s stock, and can thus profit in the future if that stock is sold at a higher price. In one recent example Old National Bancorp bought back all of its preferred stock from Treasury and negotiated a $1.2 million buyback of its warrants. But a separate analysis put the potential value of those warrants at $6.9 million.

We agree that Treasury shouldn’t be in the business of playing the stock market. But allowing other private investors to bid on the warrants would result in a fairer valuation without increasing risks to taxpayers.

Treasury Secretary Geithner now wants to recycle the returned cash and give it to banks that are not yet participating in the program – TARP II. Sequels are rarely better. We’ve argued for months that one of the biggest problems with the first bailout was the failure of Congress and Treasury to lay out clear, measurable goals. Before recycling the dough, Congress should force Treasury to come back to the table and tell taxpayers just how we are benefitting from the money already doled out and explain TARP’s effectiveness in shoring up the economy. We can’t afford a rerun of the same mistakes.

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

FEC withholding public documents on own closed enforcement actions

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 21:  U.S. President Barac...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
Campaign Legal Center

Posted May 29, 2009 by Paul S. Ryan
Picture: President Obama signs Executive Orders for open government.

Yesterday, the CLC sent two letters to the FEC concerning the Commission’s refusal to disclose documents pertaining to closed enforcement actions—documents that the FEC’s regulations and “Statement of Policy Regarding Disclosure of Closed Enforcement and Related Files” require the Commission to make public. Not only does the Commission’s withholding of these documents violate its own regulations and written policy, but also flies in the face of a commitment issued by President Obama on his first day in office to an “unprecedented level of openness in Government.”

The first letter to the Commission was a formal appeal of a decision by the FEC Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Service Center denying a CLC FOIA request for a General Counsel’s Report and the Factual and Legal Analyses written by the Commission Office of General Counsel in an connection with a complaint filed against the Romney for President Committee and one of his supporters, Kem Gardner (MUR 5937). The complaint alleged that Gardner made an illegal in-kind contribution—and that the Romney Committee accepted an illegal in-kind contribution—when Gardner paid $150,000 to charter an airplane and flew 150 people from Utah to Boston to “dial for dollars” at a Romney fundraising event. The Commission deadlocked 3-3 on whether to find reason to believe that federal law was broken and to commence an investigation, so the Commission closed the file in the matter. The Commission never made public the General Counsel’s Report or the Factual and Legal Analyses and explicitly rejected the CLC’s FOIA request for these documents.

The second letter was sent jointly by the CLC and Democracy 21, noting that in recent months, and with unprecedented frequency, the Commission has been closing enforcement actions after failing by a vote of 3-3 to pass motions related to such actions and has failed to make public General Counsel’s Reports and Factual and Legal Analyses with respect to many of these closed enforcement actions. We requested that the Commission make public all General Counsel’s Reports and Factual and Legal Analyses in closed enforcement actions.

This second, more general letter was prompted by the denial of our March FOIA request in the Romney matter. The CLC has five more similar FOIA requests pending at the FEC and the denial of our request in the Romney matter gives us little hope that the outcome will be different in our other pending requests. The six FOIA requests filed by the CLC this year pertain to only a fraction of the closed enforcement actions in which General Counsels Reports and Factual and Legal Analyses have been withheld from the public by the Commission. And, given that the Commission’s regulations and Statement of Policy require that these documents be made public, FOIA requests should not even be necessary to obtain these documents. For these reasons, we decided to make a more general appeal to the Commission with respect to the disclosure of these documents in all closed enforcement actions.

In denying our FOIA request in the Romney matter, the FOIA Service Center determined that “the agency is precluded from providing this information as it deals with predecisional documents that are covered under the deliberative process privilege under FOIA Exemption 5," citing 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5) for its position.

For the reasons detailed in our two letters to the Commission, the FOIA Service Center’s determination was erroneous with respect to the Romney matter and, to the extent this is the rationale being relied upon by the Commission to withhold documents in the other closed enforcement actions, it is similarly erroneous.

Our letters cite Supreme Court and D.C. Circuit Court precedent making clear that FOIA Exemption 5 is not mandatory. It does not preclude the Commission from providing General Counsel’s Reports and FLAs to the public but, instead, provides federal agencies with the option of asserting a privilege and withholding “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5). Even if this exemption is available under FOIA, the Commission is free as a matter of law and policy to publicly disclose General Counsel’s Reports and Factual and Legal Analyses.

Indeed, as our letters further explain, the Commission has adopted regulations and a policy statement that require the Commission to disclose General Counsel’s Reports and Factual and Legal Analyses. This is therefore not a discretionary matter—the Commission and its staff must follow the Commission’s own regulations and policy until they are changed. The Commission’s regulations state that:

[T]he Commission shall make the following materials available for public inspection and copying: . . . Opinions of Commissioners rendered in enforcement cases, General Counsel’s Reports and non-exempt 2 U.S.C. 437g investigatory materials shall be placed on the public record of the Agency no later than 30 days from the date on which all respondents are notified that the Commission has voted to close such an enforcement file[.]

11 C.F.R. § 4.4(a) (emphasis added). Further, the Commission’s “Statement of Policy Regarding Disclosure of Closed Enforcement and Related Files” clearly states:

With respect to enforcement matters, the Commission will place the following categories of documents on the public record:

. . . .

3. General Counsel’s Reports that recommend dismissal, reason to believe, no reason to believe, no action at this time, probable cause to believe, no probable cause to believe, no further action, or acceptance of a conciliation agreement;

4. Notification of reason to believe findings (including Factual and Legal Analysis);

. . . .

The Commission is placing the foregoing categories of documents on the public record in all matters it closes on or after January 1, 2004.

68 Fed. Reg. at 70427 (emphasis added).

If the Commission would like to withhold General Counsel’s Reports and Factual and Legal Analyses under FOIA Exemption 5, it must open a rulemaking with notice and comment to change the existing regulations, and follow its procedures for amending or withdrawing the policy statement which currently governs this issue. Until then, the Commission’s existing rules and policies require such documents to be disclosed.

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Federal employee travel credit card abuse "in the millions of dollars" each year

An example of street markets accepting credit ...Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
POGO- Project on Government Oversight
Contact: Scott Amey, 202-347-1122 or Marthena Cowart, 202-347-3958

[In a bureaucracy the size of our federal government, we can expect, during peace time and prosperity, daily small financial abuses from many of its employees. However, in the time of wars and skyrocketing national debt, credit card abuse during the George W Bush administration is shameful. -ATR]

A recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) highlights long-standing systemic weaknesses and mismanagement in federal credit card spending.

CRS’s report details abuses in the federal government travel card program that are costing the government and taxpayers “millions of dollars annually.” Travel cards are used by government officials for airline, hotel, and related travel expenses. CRS looked at Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Inspector General (IG) travel card reports, and found that:
  • Improper or unauthorized charges included $3,700 for laser eye surgery, reimbursement of nearly $10,000 for tickets that an official didn’t purchase, a first-class trip to Hawaii, and numerous upgrades to premium-class accommodations.
  • Agencies failed to recover millions of dollars in unused tickets – the Department of Defense had $100 million in unused tickets from 1997 to 2003.
  • Delinquent travel card payments prevented the government from receiving maximum potential rebates from card vendors.
  • Travel card spending increased from $4.39 million in FY 1999 to $8.28 million in FY 2008.

“A private travel agency would be out of business running this kind of operation,” declared Scott Amey, POGO’s General Counsel. “This report summarizes problems with individual transactions and, more importantly, with government agencies that aren’t safeguarding taxpayer dollars. Immediate improvements are needed, including improved oversight of all transactions, increased penalties for misuse, and enhanced processes to take full advantage of the benefits that travel cards were expected to bring.”

Legislation is pending in the Senate (S. 942) and House (H.R. 2189) that will add taxpayer protections for government travel cards and purchase cards (used for supplies and services).

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obama's campaign and presidential Five Day Pledge for public input of bills sent to him needs clarification

WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 09:  White House Chief o...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
Sunlight Foundation

Picture: White House press secretary Robert Gibbs (R) with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Today’s Washington Times has a review of President Obama’s pledge to post legislation online before signing it, where Press Secretary Gibbs is paraphrased:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the clock starts ticking when a
link is posted to bills when they are in their final version, such as a
conference report, even if they haven’t passed Congress.
Here’s (I believe) the exchange from Friday:

Q Robert, on the signings today, I’m wondering, the President had pledged
to put bills up on the Web for five days before he signed legislation. And is
that just pretty much out the window?

MR. BURTON: It’s been five days.

MR. GIBBS: I think we posted conference reports several days in
advance. I can get you the exact days.

Q The conference reports?

MR. GIBBS: The conference reports that after they’ve voted on become
the gross legislation that’s delivered here that the President ultimately signs
that becomes public law.

Q So you’re — is that a finalized version of it that went out or

MR. GIBBS: Well, a conference report, as you know, is an unamendable
piece of legislation that has to be approved by both Houses, language has to be
simultaneous, it gets sent down here, and we sign it. So if a conference report
is — if something is delineated as a conference report or if there’s not a
conference committee and there’s a separate piece of legislation, if the Senate
passes a bill — if the House and Senate pass different versions of a bill and
the House agrees to accede to the Senate version, then the Senate version might
be put up before the House votes on it. Once they vote on it, both Houses have
passed identical legislation, and it comes down here.

Q So it’s effectively a finalized version. It just hasn’t –

MR. GIBBS: It’s not effectively — it legally is, yes.

Q Okay.

Compare that to this post from from January 20th:

One significant addition to reflects a campaign promise from the
President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five
days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.
The only other update from the White House has come in this post, which says:

The President remains committed to bringing more transparency to government, and in this spirit the White House will continue to publish legislation expected to
come to his desk online for public comment as it moves through Congress.
A little clarity would go a long way here. The White House will either start to fulfill campaign promise, whether it’s meaningful or not, or they won’t. The least acceptable choice, though, is to continue to redefine online, or bill.

For a clearer version of the pledge, here’s the version Politifact cites:

“Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the
public has the opportunity to review them,” Obama’s campaign Web site states .
“As president, Obama will not sign any nonemergency bill without giving the
American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House Web site for five days.”
That’s pretty clear. Posting a link from to THOMAS of a conference report that is expected to pass doesn’t cut it.

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Service," by David Weller

the world is once served
when people have the right to
serve their government

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Open Government," by David Weller

the light of day makesgovernment data public,
who makes it info

Landmark affirmative vote in House committee moves climate change legislation forward

U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce of...Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
Environmental Defense Fund

[Due to the sheer gravity of current climate legislation, which in fact may be more important than our nation's financial deliberations, I have brought to your attention the climate bill's latest news. It is from EDF, a sober and experienced advocacy org. for climate policy that partners with businesses, governments and communities to find practical solutions. -ATR]

Breaking News: Historic Climate Vote. Now What?

Dear [friend],

You just changed history. Thank you.

Moments ago, the House Energy and Commerce Committee reported out a bill to reduce America's global warming pollution by 83% by 2050. This landmark vote sets the stage for full House action and provides a crucial roadmap for Senate action.

Keep the champagne on ice though -- we're a long, long way from our goal, to send a bill for President Obama's signature this year.

And to help us seize this momentum for climate action, an anonymous donor has agreed match your climate action donation dollar-for-dollar.

Please donate now to double your support for full House and Senate action this year.

This historic action comes at a critical moment. A new study from MIT warns that global warming could be "twice as severe as previous estimates indicate." (USA Today, 5/21/09)

Standing between us and ultimate victory is an army of right-wing ideologues and old school oil, coal and gas interests -- who have unleashed a torrent of fake science, scare-mongering statistics, and propaganda designed to stop climate progress in Washington.

They've made their intentions only too clear. In a leaked strategy memo, opposition leaders are urging their rank and file to unite in opposition while offering no climate alternative of their own.

And the big polluters and their well-paid lobbyists are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat this bill.

By one estimate, there are more than 2,000 paid lobbyists in Washington working to stop climate action.

We're at a make-or-break moment.

Your donation right now will go twice as far to help us ramp up our campaign efforts to continue our fight. With your support, we'll be able to target more districts, buy more ad time, and do more on-the-ground field work.

Now that the bill has made its way out of Committee, the wrangling over votes -- especially in swing districts -- begins in earnest. Our National Climate Campaign Director Steve Cochran tells me that the full House could vote on this bill within the month, giving us precious little time to ramp up.

That's why the opponents of progress are pulling out all the stops to confuse and scare the public right now. And it's why you and I must raise our voices as never before.

Please make a donation today to take advantage of our dollar-for-dollar match to support climate legislation.

Your donation will never make a bigger difference than it will today.One way or another, we are making history in 2009. Whether this becomes the year we changed America's direction or the one in which we lost one of our last great opportunities to act is up to us.

Please join me.

David Yarnold
President, Environmental Defense Action Fund

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Submit federal transparency and open government recommendations

Seal of the United States Office of Science an...Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
Office of Science and Technology Policy

Executive Office of the President; Transparency and Open Government

SUMMARY: The President's January 21, 2009, memorandum entitled, Transparency and Open Government, directed the Chief Technology Officer, in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the General Services Administration (GSA), to develop a set of recommendations that will inform an Open Government Directive. This directive will be issued by OMB and will instruct executive departments and agencies on specific actions to implement the principles set forth in the President's memorandum. Members of the public are invited to participate in the process of developing recommendations via email or the White House Web site at offering comments, ideas, and proposals about possible initiatives and about how to increase openness and transparency in government.

DATES: Comments must be received by June 19, 2009.

ADDRESSES: Submit comments by one of the following methods:
Mail: Office of Science and Technology Policy, Attn: Open Government Recommendations, 725 17th Street, Washington, DC 20502.

Comments submitted in response to this notice could be made available to the public online or by alternative means. For this reason, please do not include in your comments information of a confidential nature, such as sensitive personal information or proprietary information. If you submit an e-mail comment, your e-mail address will be captured automatically and included as part of the comment that is placed in the public docket and made available on the Internet.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Office of Science and Technology Policy, Attn: Open Government, 725 17th Street, NW., Washington, DC 20502.


>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Security bill for the Internet squelches speech, curtails liberties down to the individual user

{{wOlympia Snowe}}, U.S. Senator.Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

6:00 am May 20, 2009, by Bob Barr
Picture: US Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME)

The Internet — arguably the most empowering and important innovation of the modern era — is in danger of being stifled by the heavy hand of government control. Legislation now pending in the U.S. Senate would give the president, the Department of Commerce and other federal bureaucracies absolute power to define the Internet’s usage and to close it down at will.

While the “Cybersecurity Act of 2009” so far has only a few sponsors, it appears on a fast track for hearings, mark-up and passage.

This cybersecurity bill presents itself as a necessary and carefully considered response to a legitimate problem — the lack of adequate security measures for national security programs and infrastructure sectors. It is, however, a cyber-wolf in sheep’s clothing. As introduced by Democrat Jay Rockefeller and Republican Olympia Snowe, the legislation’s scope and power to reach every corner of the vast Internet system — including individual, private Internet usage — raises extremely troubling privacy and censorship concerns.

When coupled with provisions in the little-known International Cybercrime Treaty ratified by the Senate in 2006 under pressure from the Bush administration, enactment of the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 presents the very real possibility of direct interference by other nations and international organizations in domestic Internet use.

As with most pieces of bad legislation, this one starts with high-sounding “findings” that mask and divert focus from its actual effects. The preliminary section, for example, correctly states that “failure to protect cyberspace” constitutes a serious national security problem, and that a cyber attack on our national power grid, for example, could be devastating.

However, rather than focus solutions to these problems on areas properly within the scope of the federal government the legislation sweeps so broadly as to grant the federal government virtually unfettered and unreviewable power over every aspect of the Internet, from the most complex national security segment to the smallest individual user.First, the bill defines the operative term, “cyber,” to include: “any process, program, or protocol relating to the use of the Internet or … transmission … via the Internet,” and “any matter relating to, or involving the use of, computers or computer networks.”

The bill incorporates within the unwieldy term “federal government and United States critical infrastructure information systems,” the following : all “state, local, and nongovernmental information systems … designated by the President as critical .”It is easy to understand the concern of many Internet users and network administrators, especially when considered in the context of the actual powers the act proposes to give the federal government.

The president is empowered to declare a “cybersecurity emergency” (not defined in the bill) and “order the limitation or shutdown of Internet traffic to and from” any of the defined networks! Even in the absence of declaring a so-called cybersecurity emergency, the president can order the shutdown of any of the defined networks whenever he decides doing so would be “in the interest of national security.”

The bill grants deeply troubling powers over private-sector use of the Internet that should bother every user and purveyor of Internet services. Such concerns are heightened when considering that the 2006 Cybercrime Treaty requires U.S. law enforcement agencies to grant to foreign governments that have likewise adopted the treaty, access to an Internet service provider’s customer use records.

If signed into law, the 2009 Cybersecurity Act would constitute the second half of a one-two punch effectively neutering the Internet.

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights passes US Senate; President Obama expected to sign identical House bill before Memorial Day

Christopher Dodd, U.S. Senator.Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.

“U.S. PIRG commends the Senate on overwhelming passage of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act, S 414, as introduced by Senator Chris Dodd, Chair of the Senate Banking Committee. While the House has already passed a similar Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights, we expect that the House will simply pass the identical Senate bill so Congress can send a final bill for the President to sign before Memorial Day.

For too long, owning a credit card company has been a license to steal. Over the last few years, the banks increased their use of abusive tactics, such as changing due dates so they could trick consumers into paying late. Worse, they charged a double whammy—a high late fee first and then tripled interest rates to 36% APR or more. Second, they started charging good customers higher rates because they supposedly paid some other creditor late (universal default). But that wasn’t enough, so they started raising the rates of customers who’d been late to no creditor, for no reason at all. That was their biggest mistake. Gouging everyone caused thousands and thousands of Americans who just want a fair deal to contact Congress and even the Federal Reserve.

The Credit Card Act bans nearly all retroactive rate increases on current balances, it prohibits universal default in the first year and it protects college students from unfair marketing of credit cards.

I’ve been in Washington twenty years. For the first 19 we couldn’t even get a committee vote on credit card reform despite these practices.

Due to abusive practices by credit card companies, we are now on the verge of historic credit card reform. Is it everything we want? No, we should also ban raising rates going forward, not just retroactively, and we should ban forced arbitration clauses in credit card contracts and reinstate usury ceilings. But final passage of this historic credit card reform legislation will stop big credit card companies, many of which are feeding at the TARP taxpayer trough, from cheating Americans out of their hard-earned money. That will help working families so that they can become part of our economic recovery, not lurch on a credit card debt treadmill. It’s about time.”


Posted by Ed Mierzwinski at May 19, 2009 02:01 PM

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, May 18, 2009

Social Security cash flow deficits are projected to begin in 2016

Seal of the United States Social Security Admi...Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
The Concord Coalition

Trustees Report Projects Social Security Deficit in 2016

Last week, the Trustees of the Social Security Trust Funds (Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability) released their annual report. In a nutshell, following is the status of the trust funds, based on the Trustees' findings:

  • Social Security is a pay-as-you-go program where incoming payroll tax revenue revenues (6.2% each from employers and employees) pay for benefits disbursed to retirees and disabled Americans.

  • Cash flow deficits are projected to begin in 2016, as opposed to last year's estimate of 2017.

  • Cash deficits will continue and worsen as the baby-boom generation retires.

  • The assertion that "social security surpluses" will keep the program solvent until 2037 is misleading, because the surpluses do not actually exist except on paper. The surpluses consist of IOU's from the Treasury Department to the Social Security Trust Funds (Treasury Bonds) and can be redeemed only if taxes are raised, spending is cut, or the Treasury borrows the money.
  • Dedicated tax income (including taxation of benefits) projected for 2016: $986 billion. Benefit payments projected for 2016: $1,005 billion

Who are the Trustees? Secretary of the Treasury Geithner; Secretary of Labor Solis; Secretary of HHS Sebelius; and Commissioner of Social Security Astrue. The two public trustee positions are vacant.

2009 Social Security Trustees Report

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Medicare Part A Hospital Insurance Trust Fund is already running a cash deficit

A Medicare card, with several areas of the car...Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
The Concord Coalition

Trustees Report Shows Medical Hospital Fund Already in the Red

Medicare is a national health insurance entitlement program for Americans 65 and older. The program also covers workers who have become disabled. The program has four parts:

  • Part A Hospital Insurance, financed primarily by current workers' payroll taxes (1.45% payed by current employers and employees), covers hospital services, post-hospital services, and hospice care.

  • Part B Supplementary Medical Insurance, financed primarily by general tax revenues (as well as premiums and copayments), provides optional coverage for physician services, outpatient hospital care, home health care and medical equipment.

  • Part C "Medicare Advantage" provides managed care options for beneficiaries enrolled in Parts A and B.

  • Part D Prescription Drug Coverage, financed by general tax revenues and premiums, provides optional drug coverage for the elderly and disabled.

HI Trust Fund already running a cash deficit.--The 2009 Trustees Report found that Medicare's Hospital Insurance Trust Fund already paid out more in benefits last year, than it received in cash income.

Moreover, cash deficits will continue to grow due to the rapid increase in health care costs and the retirement of the baby boom generation.

Part A Trust Fund Income in 2008*: $215 billion. Outgo during 2008: $236 billion.

SMI Trust Fund: Medicare Part B and Part D comprise the Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) Trust Fund. However, since general revenues are automatically pumped into this "trust fund" to cover expenditures not paid for by premiums and copayments, it is not a trust fund in any meaningful sense. This stands in contrast to the HI Trust Fund, which is financed by a dedicated revenue source (primarily payroll taxes).

*(Excluding interest from the Treasury, which is simply an intragovernmental transfer)

2009 Medicare Trustees Report

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Interact more with the White House with the new Office of Public Engagement

The White House (Washington DC)Image by ~MVI~ via Flickr

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
The White House

Engagement, Women, Health Care, and Yarn

Monday, May 18th, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Posted by Christina M. Tchen, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement

Welcome to the Office of Public Engagement! Those of you who know Washington may have known about the Office of Public Liaison, which has been the office in the White House since the Nixon Administration that has connected the White House with public interest groups and constituencies based here in DC. Since the Inauguration, I have been the Director of the Office of Public Liaison, and our staff has had a busy hundred days reaching out to local and national groups across over four dozen different areas. But President Obama, as a community organizer himself, has always recognized the importance of engaging grass roots and grass tops, and wants this White House to be engaged in a two-way conversation with people across the country. As the President explained in the video announcing our "relaunch," we are renaming and repurposing ourselves as the Office of Public Engagement to reflect that mission [...]


As President Obama has said, this office serves as the front door to the White House, and we will be engaging all of you in the work it will take to change this country. The meeting I had with women small business owners this week is one of many important conversations we’ll be holding. Please stay tuned for additional blogs from me and the rest of the Office of Public Engagement staff, as we will be listening to and sharing with you the stories that we are hearing around the country.

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Check out this lecture video on campaign finance reform by Lawrence Lessig

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
Change Congress

Lessig's keynote - an intellectual treat for you

Hi folks,

If you want to give your mind an intellectual treat, take the time this weekend to watch Lawrence Lessig's recent keynote address at the Brennan Center's national conference on campaign-finance reform.

Lessig is co-founder of Change Congress and his keynotes have been called "legendary." This keynote was presented to luminaries of the campaign-finance reform world and top Obama administration officials.

Thanks for helping to Change Congress.

--Adam, Monica, Japhet, and Stephanie

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sign the Fair Elections Now Act Petition

Chellie PingreeImage via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
Public Campaign

Money in Politics 2009: New Horizons for Campaign Reform

Last Friday, experts from all across the country gathered to examine and discuss the 2008 election results, how money in politics affected those elections, and new possibilities for campaign finance reform. The conference, held by the Brennan Center for Justice at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., provided a forum for those working on campaign finance reform to exchange ideas through panel discussions. These panels delved into the issues of campaign financing and the Internet, constitutional concerns, and the small donor revolution. They also covered prospects for congressional and presidential public financing.

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) kicked off the day with optimism and enthusiasm, touting the Fair Elections Now Act. She noted the current system of constant fundraising is simply untenable. “That doesn’t seem like any way to run a democracy,” she commented. Offering the Fair Elections Now Act as a viable alternative to the current system, she believes the time for change is now. “This is our moment in time,” she declared. Others echoed a similar sentiment. Nick Nyhart, Public Campaign’s president and CEO, spoke on the last panel of the day and affirmed that “now absolutely is the moment to win this kind of reform.

”The Fair Elections Now Act is a multifaceted proposal. The bill will open the political process to broader participation by engaging small donors and freeing candidates from the fundraising treadmill. “It’s a system driven entirely by small donors,” Nyhart noted. “This model of public financing amplifies the voices of ordinary Americans. This system turns social capital into political capital and turns community leaders into political leaders,“ Nyhart explained.

The one-day conference ended with remarks by actor Sam Waterston, a supporter of the Fair Elections Now Act and Public Campaign. “Every one of us is a stakeholder in what goes on in that dome just down the road and therefore the process by which these women and men who represent us are elected and the conditions under which they serve are vital to us all,” said Waterston. “In campaign season we want the voters to be the most important focus of every candidate’s attention, but the [current] system demands they make donors their focus...You’re all here to make things right, united in an effort to win public financing through the Fair Elections Now Act and are in it until we win.”

Have you shown your support for the Fair Elections Now Act? Click here to become a citizen co-sponsor!

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

View videos from "The Next Democracy" event

WASHINGTON - MARCH 09:  A man carries a props ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
The Brennan Center for Justice

The Next Democracy

We wanted to let you know about a remarkable gathering we convened last month at White Oak Conservation Center in Florida. "The Next Democracy" brought together leading thinkers, activists and government officials to envision a 21st Century democracy, and what we need to do to get there.

We are posting video interviews with some of the participants on our website -- Rick Hertzberg of the New Yorker, Anna Burger of SEIU, Elaine Kamarck of Harvard, Dahlia Lithwick of, Christopher Edley, Jr. of Berkeley law school, and others.

>>Please click here to check out these and other interviews.

At its core, the economic crisis is a political crisis. It stems from years of weak participation, money-drenched politics and a retreat from the rule of law. To solve our problems will require more than policy victories. We must make sure to use this moment to revitalize our democracy and our broken government, so we don't face another crisis like this. We need fresh thinking and new energy.

At The Next Democracy, we discussed voter registration modernization to add every eligible citizen to the rolls ... exciting new campaign finance reforms that boost the impact of small donors through matching funds ... redistricting reform to assure accountability and avoid partisan gerrymandering ... National Popular Vote to end the Electoral College ... the Employee Free Choice Act and other steps to empower workers ... ways to widen national service and expand civic literacy ... and more.

We didn't all agree on all these issues, of course, but we left with palpable excitement about the idea that this moment of great challenge for the country will be one of those times when we once again widen the circle of democracy.

Again, please click here to check out these illuminating interviews, and the rest of our website.

Best regards,
Michael Waldman Executive Director
Brennan Center for Justice
at NYU School of Law
New York, NY

Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law 161 Avenue of the Americas, 12th Floor New York, NY 10013 212.998.6730 phone 212.995.4550 fax

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Calls for prosecution of American torture suspects increasing

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
Originally published by

Glenn Greenwald

Wednesday May 13, 2009 06:20 EDT

Jesse Ventura was on CNN with Larry King on Monday night and this exchange occurred, illustrating how simple, clear and definitively non-partisan is the case for investigations and prosecutions for those who ordered torture (video [link] below):

VENTURA: I don't watch much TV. This year's reading, I covered Bush's
life. I covered Guantanamo and a few other subjects.

And I'm very disturbed about it.

I'm bothered over Guantanamo because it seems we've created our own
Hanoi Hilton. We can live with that? I have a problem.

I will criticize President Obama on this level; it's a good thing I'm
not president because I would prosecute every person that was involved in that
I would prosecute the people that did it. I would prosecute the
people that ordered it. Because torture is against the law.

KING: You were a Navy SEAL.

VENTURA: That's right. I was water boarded, so I know -- at SERE
School, Survival Escape Resistance Evasion. It was a required school you had to
go to prior to going into the combat zone, which in my era was Vietnam. All of
us had to go there. We were all, in essence -- every one of us was waterboarded.
It is torture.

KING: What was it like?

VENTURA: It's drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that
you are drowning. It is no good, because you -- I'll put it to you this way, you
give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the
Sharon Tate murders.

Let's just repeat that: "I would prosecute the people that ordered it. Because torture is against the law." That is the crux of the case for investigations and prosecutions. That's it. Can anyone find a "liberal" or ideological argument anywhere in what Ventura said? It's about as far from a partisan or "leftist" idea as one can get. Yet our establishment media has succeeded (as Digby recently argued) in converting this view into a "Hard Left," "liberal" or "partisan" argument because that's the only prism through which they can understand anything, and that's their time-honored instrument for demonizing any idea that threatens their institutional prerogatives and orthodoxies (only the Hard Left favors this).

Ventura himself, like the argument he's advocating, is also about as far from being a "leftist" or partisan as it gets. He was elected Governor of Minnesota by running as the ultimate non-partisan, as a poorly-funded independent who defeated both the GOP and Democratic establishment candidates on a largely libertarian platform and on what he called "fiscal conservatism," including large tax rebates. In fact, Ventura was hailed by David Broder himself as the Broderian trans-partisan hero whose victory was due to a "sense of frustration with the partisan squabbling."

Unlike the establishment-revering, prosecution-opposing pundits who are the true partisans -- loyal spokespeople who fiercely defend Beltway culture and legal immunity for political elites above all else -- Ventura is doing nothing more than expressing definitively independent and non-ideological political principles, ones that were quite obviously ingrained in him over the course of decades as an American and a veteran: torture is wrong in all cases; it is illegal; and those who do it should therefore be prosecuted.

Former aide to Condoleezza Rice and former 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow yesterday became the latest to join Ventura by calling for investigations into torture, telling Laura Rozen: "When there is this kind of collective failure, we need to learn from what happened." Gen. Barry McCaffrey two weeks ago pointed out that numerous detainees were "murdered" in U.S. custody -- which is unquestionably true -- and called for criminal investigations of the top-level political officials who sanctioned torture. Gen. Antonio Taguba previously stated that "there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account." Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff, retired U.S. Army Col. Larry Wilkerson, this month endorsed both investigations and prosecutions for Bush officials who broke the law. Bush 41 ambassador Thomas Pickering and Reagan-appointed FBI Director William Sessions wrote in The Washington Post that an independent investigation was a pre-requisite to moving beyond the torture era. Leading conservative-Democrat Rep. Steny Hoyer yesterday said the same thing. Ronald Reagan vehemently insisted that torture is inexcusable in all cases -- no exceptions -- and that those who do it must be prosecuted.

These are the people -- Gen. McCaffrey, Gen. Taguba, Col. Wilkerson, Philip Zelikow, Jesse Ventura, Ambassador Pickering, Director Sessions -- that our little David Ignatiuses deceitfully dismiss as "liberal score-settlers" and that our David Broders and John Barrys accuse of lying by masking their Hard Left thirst for partisan vengeance with false pretenses about a belief in the rule of law and contrived disgust at torture. Our media stars have a script from which they mindlessly read -- anyone who believes that political leaders should be held accountable for serious crimes must be a member of the "Hard Left" when the lawbreaking political leaders in question are Republicans -- and they recite it over and over no matter how much evidence piles up in front of their noses proving how untrue it is.

Our media stars accuse everyone with any actual beliefs -- and especially any beliefs that deviate from Beltway establishment orthodoxy -- of being motivated by ugly "partisan" impulses because that's the only way they are capable of seeing the world. It's the ultimate act of projection. That's how the most non-ideological and non-partisan principles (e.g.: government leaders who commit serious crimes should be held accountable; torture is wrong; Presidents shouldn't eavesdrop on Americans without warrants where the law makes doing so a felony) are transformed into partisan, "ideological" views of the Hard Left, even when they are plainly nothing of the sort. As commenter DCLaw1 wrote in explaining the media's sudden obsession this week with whether Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the CIA's interrogation program even though that issue has been known for years:

I want to point out that the main reason, if not the only reason, for this
overwhelming media view is because the only lens through which they can see this
issue - like every issue - is the Republican/Democrat or conservative/liberal
When one's entire point of reference for even issues of egregious
lawbreaking goes no further than fixating obsessively over the identity of the people and parties to the "controversy" and the issue's putative effect on partisan politics, whether a leader of one party was informed of the crimes of the other takes on a meaning perversely greater than the evil of the underlying conduct itself.

Our establishment media simply cannot get beyond this stultifyingly
narrow framework. It is pathological. Additionally, this staunch avoidance of
anything approaching a substantive assessment of the actual illegal conduct, in
favor of a petty fixation on the partisan "helps or harms" game, helps only the
"side" that has committed the crimes and wrongdoing. No wonder our discourse is
so unbelievably misshapen.

Few things better illustrate how warped our political discourse is than the media's claim that advocating investigations and prosecutions for political lawbreakers who commit serious crimes, who torture, who illegally spy on Americans with no warrants, is the province of partisans on the "Hard Left," even when people who are as far away from that as possible prominently advocate exactly that.

* * * * *

Beltway mavens are eager to declare that the torture controversy is ending, but these crimes are far too significant to sweep under the rug, no matter how unified the political and media establishments are in that effort. In addition to the Ventura interview and the Zelikow call for investigations yesterday, here are some headlines just from the last 24 hours:

Interrogation Probe Should Include Congressional Leaders, Hoyer Says

US lawmakers to hear from Bush 'torture' dissenter

Top US Democrat under fire over 'torture' briefings

US lawmaker: Public needs all facts on alleged torture

Ire Over a Columnist, an Author of Torture Memos

Speaker Under Fire on Torture ("With a series of torture investigations already in the works . . . the issue simply isn’t going away").

It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the President's apparent contemplation of reversing himself on whether to release 60 new photographs showing brutal American abuse of detainees (outside of Abu Ghraib) is part of an effort to tamp down what is still, quite obviously, the growing political pressure not to simply "move beyond" the serious crimes that were committed.

* * * * *

The call for prosecutions from the newest member of America's rapidly growing Hard Left:

[For Ventura interview video clip, please go to original article and scroll to bottom of article.]

-- Glenn Greenwald

>All Things Reform Mobile: >Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 (not toll-free) >US House/Senate Mobile: >Contact your reps tips: >Shortened All Things Reform URL:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]