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SITES Certifies 12 More Projects

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) has certified a dozen sustainable landscapes across the country for meeting rigorous standards for environmental design and performance, bringing the total number of SITES-certified projects to nearly 46. These 12 landscapes include a historic Maryland house, a pocket park in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, and a public children’s garden in […] […]

Making SublimeLinter Work With rbenv and rubocop

After installing SublimeLinter 3 and SublimeLinter-rubocop in Sublime Text 3, I saw the following error in the Sublime Text 3 console (which you can pull up with ctrl + `):

SublimeLinter: rubocop version query: /Users/samh/.rbenv/shims/ruby -S rubocop --version
SublimeLinter: WARNING: no rubocop version could be extracted from:
ruby: no Ruby script found in input (LoadError)

This is a pretty gnarly error, since there are a lot of moving pieces:

  1. Sublime Text 3: the text editor.
  2. SublimeLinter 3: a linting framework for Sublime Text 3.
  3. SublimeLinter-rubocop: a SublimeLinter 3 plugin that helps rubocop hook into the SublimeLinter framework.
  4. rubocop: a “Ruby static code analyzer” that does the actual checking of your source code.
  5. rbenv: a Ruby environment manager, which helps you have multiple Ruby versions on your system.

To address the error, begin by making sure that your SublimeLinter.sublime-settings file has your ~/.rbenv/shims directory in its “paths” hash (run which ruby to get an idea of where your rbenv shims path is). This makes sure that SublimeLinter has your rbenv stuff in its path. Your “paths” hash should look something like this:

"paths": { "linux": [], "osx": [ "~/.rbenv/shims" ], "windows": [] },

If the no Ruby script found in input error persists, the next step is to add a default Ruby to your rbenv installation. You can either manually edit a file at ~/.rbenv/version or run rbenv global 2.1.2. This will set a base Ruby version for rbenv to use systemwide, unless it’s overridden. You don’t need to use 2.1.2 — you just need any rubocop-compatible Ruby version.

After setting a default global Ruby, navigate to any directory without a .ruby-version file (try cd ~) and run ruby -v to make sure that the active Ruby version matches the one you just set as default. Then, run gem install rubocop so that that default Ruby environment has the rubocop gem. Finally, run rbenv rehash.

At this point, you should have a default rbenv Ruby with its own associated environment that contains rubocop. Furthermore, SublimeLinter should know about the directory that contains this Ruby setup.

Now, exit Sublime Text 3 and reopen the program. Navigate to a Ruby file, and you should see SublimeLinter-rubocop doing its thing! If you open the Sublime Text console, you should see some actual rubocop output, too.

Note: you may need to re-activate the rubocop linter in your SublimeLinter settings file by setting rubocop’s @disabled attribute to false.

In review: Providing a systemwide default rbenv Ruby version — and installing rubocop to that Ruby version — lets SublimeLinter-rubocop run the programs it needs to lint your Ruby files.

If you run into any trouble, let me know in the comments.


Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (March 16 – 31)

New City Design Can Help Reclaim a Lost Way of Life – China Daily, 3/18/15 “When landscape architect Sean O’Malley finds himself on a site for the first time, he looks for what stands out, what defines the place. This could often mean a mountain, a river, a system of wetlands. Whatever it is that defines […] […]

Partisanship is a profit center for founder of new Scott Walker super PAC

One line Wisconsin governor and White House hopeful Scott Walker used in his speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January — if politicians “go big and go bold you can actually get results” — has surfaced as more than a rallying cry for the Badger State pol. It’s now the moniker of a new super PAC established by political operative Robert Adams, who has a history of using much of the money raised from his political vehicles to support neither candidates nor causes — but rather Robert Adams and the businesses he owns.

Though Walker allies have already established a 527 political committee, a nonfederal committee that can raise unlimited funds from any source, to support his eventual candidacy, Go Big Go Bold promises to “help build a groundswell of bold, conservative support to Draft Scott Walker.”

The PAC’s digital advertisements direct viewers to a website where they can donate money to the committee and add their name to a petition to draft Walker for president. A donation page tells prospective contributors that their money “will be put to work immediately.”

What exactly the donations will be used for, however, remains to be seen.

Although the pro-Walker committee is a new creation, the format is a familiar one to Bob Adams, the group’s president and treasurer. A political communications specialist, Adams formerly worked as communications director to Patrick Buchanan and partnered with conservative commentator Dick Morris at the League of American Voters according to his profile on LinkedIn.

The veteran politico heads the Revive America super PAC, which has led similar petition drives on a far-flung range of issues. From impeaching President Obama to abolishing the IRS to halting all incoming travel from West Africa in the midst of the ebola crisis, the tone of Revive America’s ads tends to be one of impending doom (“Even if you already called, call again,” says one ad). In each instance, viewers are pointed to a website or toll-free telephone number where they can donate to the respective cause and add their name to a petition.

Revive America’s fundraising drives were apparently a success, as the group raked in just over $600,000 in the 2014 election cycle, 80 percent of which came in the form of small donations of $200 or less.

The PAC’s advocacy efforts, however, were decidedly less impressive. Reports made to the Federal Election Commission show that just 1.2 percent of the $550,000 spent by the committee in 2014 — or $6,380 — paid for direct advocacy of federal candidates.

In the same time period the organization directed a whopping $140,000 to organizations controlled by Adams — including $111,038 to Opinion Strategies LLC, a West Virginia company that lists Robert and Allison Adams as its sole officers. The PAC’s financial reports show that those payments went toward a variety of services, including “fundraising consulting,” “e-mail distribution” and “campaign management.”

The PAC also transferred $29,500 in “non-federal contributions” to Revive America USA, Inc., a Florida nonprofit that lists Adams as its founder and president on its website.

The rest of its expenses paid for website management, donor list rentals and other outside consultants, including $206,000 to Rapid Response Television of Stafford, Texas, and $77,000 to telemarketing firm InfoCision, an Ohio company which Sunlight has reported on in the past.

As for the newly minted Go Big Go Bold PAC, we won’t know the details of that committee’s activity until it files its first financial report on April 15.

Attempts to contact Adams for comment on this piece were unsuccessful.


10 things you can do to engage with open data (Part II)

From submitting a FOIA request to examining crime maps and more, there are a lot of things you can do with open data. (Photos under creative commons licenses.)

Need ways to make open data more tangible in your life? Here’s the second installment of our miniseries covering ways to engage with open data. Missed Part I? Check it out here.

Five more ways you can engage with open data…

6. FOIA something.

Technically, this isn’t necessarily open data; since you need to employ the Freedom of Information Act to access the information, it isn’t very … open. However, FOIA and open data have been colluding and converging for some time now, with a number of cities and agencies proactively disclosing information before anyone has to ask for it. For those other jurisdictions not on the fast track to openness, FOIA requests are still a highly effective way of showing government that citizens are engaged and have an interest and need to access government data. FOIA can also be an effective tool for discovering what data is even available from government — as we learned in our successful FOIA of the Office of Management and Budget. Due to our FOIA, we were able to get the U.S. government to make available agencies’ internal indexes of their data holdings (also known as Enterprise Data Inventories). So, want to file a FOIA? Our friends at MuckRock make it easy with their tool.

Note: While FOIA is a formidable tool for open data, the law is also plagued by “overly broad exemptions, unnecessary fees and obtuse provisions that protect secrecy.” Help us tell Congress to #ReformFOIA here.

7. Explore crime data in your neighborhood.

Jurisdictions around the country have been opening up crime data to the public, fueling numerous crime maps, apps, data visualizations and more. The best way to find crime data in your neighborhood is to start with your local police department’s website to see if they have publicly available data and searchable crime reports. Here in D.C., the Metropolitan Police Department’s Crime Map allows you to search by address, police districts or other points of interest (like schools) to see block by block data on crime committed in the vicinity. In addition, some newspapers like the Los Angeles Times also produce interactive tools to explore neighborhood crime data. Third-party tools like CrimeReports or SpotCrime can also serve as an entry point to exploring crime data nationwide with their user-friendly map interfaces (albeit sometimes incomplete data). Sunlight has been working with the Open Data Census Project to identify and evaluate crime open data available from a number of cities. Additionally, we are amassing a searchable inventory of publicly and privately produced criminal justice data. Click here to learn more, leave some feedback or submit your local data.

So, what do you do if crime data is not available in your community? You can advocate for it with your local government using our recommendations to releasing crime data, a part of our Open Data Policy Guidelines. In lieu of local data, check out Statistical Analysis Centers (SAC), state units or agencies that collect criminal justice data and provide relevant policy research. The Justice Research and Statistics Association has compiled the websites for all the SACs here. On a national level, the FBI aggregates state data into annual Uniform Crime Reports to provide an overview and analysis of crime in the United States. You can also access the national sex offender registry published by Department of Justice here.

8. Track changes in your tree coverage.

Has the redevelopment in your neighborhood left your street a little less green? You can find out with Global Forest Watch, an interactive online tool that lets you see in near-real time the changes in the world’s forest landscapes. This innovative resource lets you browse by the gains and losses of tree cover or search by address on the map. The tool uses spatial satellite data from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Landsat project, which is then assessed by the University of Maryland and combined with a wealth of (mostly open) data from governments, NGOs and companies. In addition to tree coverage data, you can also explore data on forest fires, mining, logging, palm oil production and wood fiber plantations. Global Forest Watch also provides country profiles and rankings, with a full download of datasets available (+1).

9. Help identify local government resources.

As anyone who has ever moved knows, government services vary widely from community to community. Often times, the best way to find out what resources are offered is by word of mouth from neighbors! County and city websites, notices in public buildings or flyers at community events can also serve as an invaluable intel in identifying what local government services are available. With the diversity of resources and varying times of service, the open data challenge is identifying all that your local government has to offer and a timetable of availability. To do that, consider creating your own index of county or city services and sharing that resource with your local community listserv or neighborhood social network like Nextdoor. Bonus points for creating the index on an open platform like Etherpad or Hackpad (or even just an open Google doc) to allow for crowdsource and collaboration.

So what are these local resources we speak of?

Community services may include e-waste and household HazMat disposal (such as computers, paint products, fire distinguishers, thermostats, pesticides and others) as well as recycling of bicycles and other small metal items. Seasonal services such as garden waste pickup, mulch delivery, leaf collection or Christmas tree recycling are also popular services commonly offered by local governments. City managed donation centers and collection efforts of eyeglasses, lines, microwaves, wheelchairs and winter coats are convenient and resourceful ways of disposing unwanted items while helping those in need. Together, we can better utilize government services, save money and serve our community.

10. Become open data.

While numerous ways to engage with government open data have been covered, there is no better way to embody open data than with Open Humans. This project turns to participants to volunteer their personal health data and transform it into a public resource. With the goal of breaking down “data silos in human health and research,” members can aggregate and share existing data from the various research they participant in. Currently, Open Humans is connected to three activities: American Gut, GoViral and the Personal Genome Project. Click here to learn more about public data sharing or here if you are a researcher interested in connecting your study or using the public data.

Hope these ten things have left you feeling a bit more connected with open data, your government and your community. Have other ways to engage with open data? Share them with us below in the comments section!


OpenGov Voices: Advancing access to campaign finance data in Puerto Rico

Alvin Quiñones, founder of the Center for Public Policy Research.

As part of our efforts to promote transparency and open data in Puerto Rico, ABRE Puerto Rico this month received formal recognition and support from the Office of the Electoral Comptroller (OCE in its Spanish acronym) to publish campaign contribution data for Puerto Rico. In conjunction with this collaboration, ABRE Puerto Rico has created a new web-based tool that allows the public to search through individual political campaign donation information. We have placed our application in our portal at ABRE Puerto Rico’s donation page, allowing any citizen to seek out contribution details by donor name, candidate or political party.

Currently, the law in Puerto Rico requires that political campaign donation data be public; however, until today, a citizen who was interested in seeing this information had to physically go to the OCE and pay for copies. Political parties, on the other hand, have representatives in the OCE and have full access to the data. With the publication of these data through our tool, Puerto Rico finally reached the national standard of transparency regarding donations to political campaigns. We hope easy access to this information helps avoid situations that could be seen as conflicts of interest or political favoritism in the awarding of contracts or in the appointment of governmental positions. Furthermore, it should put a check on the ability of parties to dominate how this information is used.

A screenshot of Abre Puerto Rico’s donations page.

This is a huge vote of confidence for our organization from the OCE, and we are honored that it has allowed us to disclose its data. We are confident that the easy access to this information will contribute greatly to improving accountability in our government. In a statement, Electoral Comptroller Manuel A. Torres Nieves said, “Collaboration with ABRE provides a new tool that promotes transparency and facilitates and unifies access to information available to the people. We hope that more people will get involved, use the data and increase citizen participation in monitoring the financing of political campaigns in Puerto Rico.” ABRE is also working with the OCE to release detailed expense reports, allowing citizens to see how parties use public funds for their campaigns.

A screenshot of Abre Puerto Rico’s data request platform, where users can ask for information and track it through the process.

Beyond this success, ABRE Puerto Rico recently went live with a government information request and tracking application on our website. Citizens can petition the government for any public information and monitor the progress of their data request using the tool. We recognize that citizens are frustrated by the lack of transparency and access to government data. Before, there was no centralized and uniform way for citizens to channel their requests for data and monitor government responsiveness. In many cases, these requests were ignored by government agencies. Our goal in ABRE Puerto Rico is to shine a light on the requests process and hope that the public pressure motivates government to fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide citizens with information.

Interested in writing a guest blog for Sunlight? Email us at guestblog@sunlightfoundation.com


The Week on Politwoops: Periscope eyes Meerkat

Just one week after delving into Meerkat, politicians are checking out Periscope, the latest app to live-stream video. Periscope, even though it only launched yesterday, is already being used as a verb and showing up in Politwoops, Sunlight’s … […]

10 things you can do to engage with open data (Part I)

From fixing pot holes to contacting your lawmakers and more, there are a lot of things you can do with open data. (Photos under creative commons licenses.)

Open data can be incredibly abstract and esoteric if you are looking at a bunch of numbers or spreadsheets devoid of context. And even if you can appreciate a theoretical government dataset being available publically, there’s still the perennial question: “What’s this got to do with me?” To answer that question, here are 10 concrete things you can do right now to engage with or benefit from open data.

1. Report that pothole!

It’s been a rough winter for most of us, and the roads are in pretty terrible shape. Instead of waiting for your local transportation authorities to identify and fix the problem, residents can proactively report potholes and other non-emergency issues (think broken street lights, faulty parking meters or graffitied public buildings) directly to your city or county. A number of jurisdictions employ tools like SeeClickFix or PublicStuff to make this process easier by filing issues online or with a mobile app. Once filed, you can even track the progress, make public comments and create alerts to be notified when the issue is fixed. The data from these reports are also incredibly useful and have been used to visualize complaints, analyze trends and best practices and compare performance against other cities. Improving your community has never been easier or more rewarding.

2. Look up your school district.

Do you have school-age children, or are you a homeowner interested in seeing how your property tax is spent, or do you possess some unexpressed need to boast about your public school district? The School District Demographics System has a map viewer that allows you to browse school district data to your heart’s content. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources aggregated for the National Center for Education Statistics, you can peruse data on three themes: “Race and Ethnicity,” “Population” and “Housing and Social Characteristics” of your school district. In particular, you can filter by gender and see a breakdown in the age of enrollees as well as explore the number of teachers, librarians/media specialists and total revenue data of school districts.

3. Contact your representative.

Almost all of us (sorry, D.C.) have two senators and a member of the House who is supposed to be representing our interests. In addition to being lawmakers, the offices of the members of Congress also provide vital constituent services. So whether you want to contact your rep about a specific bill or to request assistance with a specific federal department or agency, you can give your congressional office a call, or an email, or a tweet. Sunlight’s OpenCongress tool makes it easy to find your rep and and their contact info. And if you are really intent on calling them, you can do so for free using Call on Congress.

4. Check your voter registration.

If the previous suggestion offends you deeply due to your dislike for your representative, channel that open data prowess to checking your voter registration or get registered to vote them out of office. CanIVote.org is a handy site put together by the National Association of Secretaries of States that does just that and more by connecting you to your relevant state resources. Think you already know all there is to know about your elections and voter registration? Then sign up to be a poll worker so you can tell others.

5. See if the government owes you money.

It sounds like a scam — and there are many scams built upon the concept of unclaimed money from the government — but USA.gov has a whole (official!) resource page to help you look for unclaimed money. Unclaimed funds occur when the government owes you money due to myriad reasons — such as owed pensions, tax returns, bank failures, mortgage refunds, etc. — and the money is not collected. States can also owe residents money, and according to the NYS Comptroller’s office:

Banks, insurance companies, corporations and the courts are among the many organizations required by law to report dormant accounts to the State Comptroller. These organizations must attempt to notify you by mail and publish the information in newspapers. Despite these efforts, many funds remain unclaimed and are turned over to the Office of the State Comptroller.

The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators aggregates all the various state unclaimed property websites here.


We need your help today to bolster Senate e-filing

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., talks about how he has advocated for transparency while in Congress during "The Price We Pay for Money's Influence on Politics."
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., one of the biggest proponents of Senate e-filing. (Photo credit: Sunlight Foundation)

Today, the U.S. Senate can take a step towards changing a costly and opaque practice while joining their colleagues in the House and the White House in the 21st Century.

Regular readers of our blog are probably familiar with the sad state of Senate campaign finance disclosures. For those that might be new, here’s a tweet-length primer:

Senate candidates don’t have to file campaign finance docs electronically, delaying disclosure of their donors and costing taxpayers close to $500,000 a year to have their paper filings digitized.

Some senators choose to embrace 21st Century transparency, saving taxpayer money and government time by filing electronically. Even more have recognized that this is a common sense and necessary reform by cosponsoring S.366 a bill introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., that would require Senate candidates to join their compatriots running for the House and the White House — who have been filing electronically for years.

By all accounts it should be law, but it needs your help.

The Senate is in the middle of its annual budget “vote-a-rama,” and Tester has submitted an amendment (S.Amdt.570, if you’re following along at home) that would ease the way for future passage of S. 366 and finally give senators a chance to express their support of e-filing.

Call or tweet at your senators and urge them to vote in favor of S.Amdt.570 when it comes before them later today — while you’re at it, urge them to co-sponsor S.366 (find your member here). The vote could come as late as 4:00 am ET and it’s never too late to reach out.

The bill won’t force senators to start e-filing, but it will give them a rare opportunity to voice their support for the practice.

Currently, senators file reports with the Secretary of the Senate, who delivers paper copies to the FEC. That agency must then manually input the data from thousands of pages of paper into databases before the information can be made public in a searchable, usable manner. It’s a costly, archaic system that should have been phased out years ago.

Unfortunately, despite growing support and no good arguments against it, reform has been slow to come to the Senate thanks to some powerful opponents.

Today’s action is the rare amendment that could have a profound effect on how the business of running for Senate is done. It won’t change the rules immediately, but if passed it will show e-filing’s opponents that the time has come for them to stop wasting money and keeping the public in the dark.


Unlike potential opponents, Ted Cruz starts playing by the presidential rules

Ted Cruz. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Shortly after midnight last Monday, Texas Republican Ted Cruz tweeted four magic words: “I’m running for President.” Under our campaign laws, this subjects the senator to restrictions and obligations expected of all candidates running for federal office.

Specifically, Cruz cannot ask for contributions of more than $2,700 from individuals for his presidential primary run, nor may he solicit contributions of more than $5,000 for outside spending groups, like super PACs. He’s barred from controlling a 527 organization, those shadowy political organizations that don’t report their activities to federal or state campaign regulatory agencies. He can’t ask foreigners for money, nor can he raise money from corporations or labor unions. He’ll have to file regular reports with the Federal Election Commission, detailing whom he’s taking money from and what he’s spending it on, whether it’s salary for campaign aides, polling, fundraising expenses, travel or other expenditures.

Yes, he’ll be able to court bundlers — those well-connected donors who can reach out to their networks and package tens of thousands of dollars or more. And yes, he most likely will discover that some longtime ally or aide has left his side to form an entirely independent super PAC to help Cruz, hopefully with three or four but no less than one very deep-pocketed donor who can write seven-figure checks. But let’s take a moment nevertheless to salute him, the first major presidential candidate from either party to start playing by the presidential rules.

Top portion of the document that Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz filed with the Federal Election Commission after announcing his candidacy.
The FEC document that officially declares Ted Cruz as a presidential candidate

By contrast, all but declared candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush can, and do, raise money in huge chunks. Because Bush has not uttered, tweeted or otherwise expressed the magic words, he’s able to ask donors for contributions of $25,000, $100,000 or more for his Right to Rise super PAC (Sunlight’s Party Time shows quite a few examples). Part of Bush’s strategy for winning the nomination is a campaign of shock and awe fundraising; should he declare his candidacy, he’d have to leave the six- and seven-figure solicitations to others.

A trio of super PACs — Priorities USA Action, American Bridge and Ready for Hillary — are promoting Hillary Clinton. One of them, Ready for Hillary, successfully fended off a complaint to the FEC last month over its purchase of the mailing list compiled by Clinton’s last presidential campaign. The FEC concluded that the sale by Clinton’s 2008 campaign, which comprised names of her donors and supporters, to a super PAC promoting her 2016 campaign did not require Clinton to register as a federal candidate.

That decision has allowed Clinton — and the two floors’ worth of close associates she brought with her from the State Department — to continue her work with the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation undisturbed, an organization that takes funds, sometimes in multi-million dollar chunks, from foreign governments, foreign corporations and foreign individuals, among others.

Neither Bush nor Clinton are private citizens, but not even holding office is an impediment to stealthy fundraising. Sitting governors like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, R, can lead their own 527 committees, named for the section of the tax code under which they’re organized. Our American Revival, Walker’s 527, can raise funds in any amount from individuals, corporations and labor unions (though, given Walker’s policies, he probably won’t be expecting much support from that quarter). The organization’s registration with the Internal Revenue Service says that its purpose is to “lead a revival of shared values” by “limiting the size and scope of the federal government.” But, as the Washington Examiner more accurately reported, Our American Revival lets Walker “raise money and promote his potential candidacy in advance of an official announcement.”

The 527 is actually a step forward for Walker — it will have to disclose its donors, albeit to the Internal Revenue Service. During the 2012 effort to recall him, Walker raised money for the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a dark money group that supported him, as Michael Isikoff