Views on the News

October 9, 2010

Views on the News*

There is a transformation movement underway, called Government 2.0, that may be crucial to our future as a society which is focused entirely on achieving goals through increased efficiency, better management, information transparency, and citizen engagement and most often leverages newer technologies to achieve the desired outcomes. Government 2.0 is a citizen-centric philosophy and strategy that believes the best results are usually driven by partnerships between citizens and government, at all levels, and is bringing business approaches, business technologies, to government. However, this movement is still far from main-stream. Success mostly occurs organically, the result of the work of passionate individuals rather than top-down strategic change.  The change created by these passionate individuals is great but, their efforts are not sustainable.  Government employees are traditionally risk-averse, a good thing when the pace of change is relatively slow.  However, in today's fast-paced world the pace of government change, the pace of government execution is often too slow. To change we must overhaul how goals are set, how employees are trained, and how employees are measured against their goals.  Results delivered, not seniority, must become the yardstick against which employees are measured. Here are four critical success factors:

·    Focus on success at the local level - There are more than 80,000 local governments in the United States, but very few of these cities, probably less than 0.1% of them, are yet able to point to any positive change as a result of Government 2.0 initiatives. 

·    Force competitive solutions for non-core services - Non-core services like communications (PR/Marketing), IT, and training services should be considered as possibly best delivered by the private sector. 

·    Engage citizens in creating value and saving money - True results are being delivered in the private and public sector when customers/citizens are engaged in the process. 

·    Become agile, delivering on 100 day plans - While politicians often make promises for their first 100 days in office we rarely see clearly defined goals combined with execution plans and measurable outcomes publicly displayed. 

Government entities should select an easy to define project to complete every 100 days.  The projects goals, plans, and metrics for success should be published and updated weekly.  The ability to achieve results should then be rewarded, but failures should be accepted and used as opportunities to learn and improve.  Teams and individuals that consistently succeed should be rewarded, and those that consistently fail should be replaced – certainly different form today’s government.

(“It’s time for a new version of government” by John Moore dated October 1, 2010 published by CNN Money at http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2010/10/01/it%E2%80%99s-time-for-a-new-version-of-government/ )


As the country limps out of recession, economic concerns are indeed paramount in voters’ minds, but Obama and Congressional Democrats are deluding themselves if they think reversing the dire economic conditions will be their political salvation. An important part of voters’ anger now is directed at their policies which are opposed by the public and are galvanizing eager enemies, like the Tea Party. On issue after issue, Obama has signed legislation at odds with the will of the American people. With an arrogance that can only stem from a profound certainty in his rightness, Obama and his team are conducting a colossal political experiment: testing whether leaders can retain power while governing without regard to public opinion. This White House paradigm is old that a relentless focus on economic matters was the key to winning the Presidential sweepstakes. Americans are not going to embrace Obama because of the economy if they oppose much of his agenda. Of the five major policies passed or debated in the last two years, a majority of Americans is not happy with four of them - the stimulus package, federal aid to automakers, health reform and government aid to banks and financial institutions in danger of failing. All these policies were either approved during Obama’s Presidency or supported and administered by him. On the mounting federal debt, a major concern of voters, Obama has done little to curb discretionary spending. He has yet even to tackle the structural deficit - likely only addressed by cutting Social Security or Medicare benefits, or raising taxes. An ABC/Washington Post poll showed 58% disapproved of Obama’s handling of the deficit. Obama’s regulatory policies are also far from popular. A CNBC poll found that 47% believe Obama’s effort to increase business regulation is a bad idea. Voters also strongly disapprove, 60% to 28%, of the way Obama is handling illegal immigration, a recent Quinnipiac poll revealed. Many more Americans are opposed to the Obama Justice Department lawsuit against Arizona’s illegal immigration law than support it. Most Americans oppose the administration’s efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Many are concerned that terrorists will find their way into the U.S. prison system. It is a good thing that the President doesn’t care what the American people think, because after Election Day 2010, when many Democrats who backed his policies are likely to fall, he may have to learn to care.

(“It’s not just the economy, stupid” by Keith Koffler date October 1, 2010 published by Politico at http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0910/42992.html )

Municipalities all over the nation are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy which is a political crisis, one created by politicians making bad decisions with taxpayer money in order to funnel it to their cronies and supporters.  Deals cut with public employee unions bring to its members is a fat pension plan that, in theory, is generously funded by the citizens of the municipality the union members work for.  State and local pension plans "have promised over $3 trillion in retirement benefits," while their pensions’ assets "are at least $1 trillion shy of that." This massive liability puts state and local governments in a bind because they simply cannot balance the needs and wants of workers, creditors, taxpayers and retirees. Someone, somewhere, will have to suffer, unless state and local can pawn the problem off onto the federal government.  Legislation has been proposed to allow the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to engineer a taxpayer-funded bailout of the Teamsters' pension fund. If enacted, the bill could set a precedent to have federal taxpayers bail out the states. It will turn the PBGC into a pension fund variant of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government entities most to blame for the original financial crisis. Unions and local governments simply have to be held to account for their bad investments. Members of these underfunded pension schemes should be able to opt out and put their funds into defined contribution 401(k) plans or other retirement vehicles. States and municipalities should recognize their deals with labor unions as bad investments and take steps to end those agreements. The federal government should not bail them out. However, Congress has made it difficult for local governments to go into bankruptcy. If America is to break the vicious cycle of bad public investment, that needs to change. Of all the bad investments governments have made over the years, the overly generous deals given to unionized public sector employees are perhaps the worst.  If bankruptcy brings an end to those unwarranted privileges, the rest of us will have a shot at a much fairer deal from government in the future.

(“Governments’ Bad Investments” by Iain Murray dated October 1, 2010 published by The American Spectator at http://spectator.org/archives/2010/10/01/governments-bad-investments )

Leftists who opposed ObamaCare because it was not the British-style National Health Service or the Canadian "single payer" system should reconsider since the incremental rollout has already begun with California leading the charge. California's governor is about to sign legislation to set up that state's Health Benefits Exchange. The HBE is authorized under ObamaCare and is supposed to be a place where small business and individuals can access the best insurance plans at the cheapest price - a real exchange where customers can compare benefits and price in a competitive atmosphere. But not in California because the main feature of the HBE allows the exchange governing board to meet in secret and determine not only which insurance companies can participate and what must be covered, but also what they can charge. The exchange would operate independent from either legislative oversight or the governor's authority. The main goal of this California HBE is to impose government price controls on insurance while mandating the expanded coverage that policies must provide. Responding to higher premium costs driven by new benefits mandated in ObamaCare, the HBE in California and soon in your state will destroy what’s left of the insurance free market. We've seen this slow motion nationalization before. Decades ago, flood insurance carriers were hit by a political flood when Congress criticized alleged high premiums, slow response and stingy payouts following severe Mississippi flooding. Mandated coverage, de facto price controls, and federal subsidies from Congress eventually forced private insurance carriers to drop flood insurance. These days, flood insurance is a federal program. This year the federal flood insurance program is running a deficit over $25 billion – a model that ObamaCare is determined to emulate.

(“Sngle Payer Coming Under ObamaCare” by Roger Hedgecock dated October 2, 2010 published by Human Events at http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=39246 )

Barack Obama’s brief tenure as President has reminded us that, in fact, almost all the world’s crises arose before the Bush Presidency and continued during and after it, and are now degrading based on the President’s actions. The Obama “reset” foreign policy has, in an unintended way, brought clarity to America’s traditional role in the world. After 2004, “blame Bush” proved an easy way for Europeans and American liberals to delude themselves into thinking the world’s problems neither predated nor transcended George W. Bush: Tensions arose, America was at fault, Bush was the culprit, presto! Remove Bush, elect his antithesis, and a natural state of calm would return. Examine current American foreign policy toward every region, and one of three general patterns emerges: Either things are no better since the end of 2008, or they are much worse, or the Obama administration has reverted to the Bush way of doing things, despite constant assurances to the world that Bush was at fault, American foreign policy was now reset, and global animosity arose out of past misunderstanding, insensitivity, and American hubris. Take first our most vocal and overt enemies: Fidel Castro, after a few mixed messages, is still recycling his 1960s anti-American boilerplate; Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is cementing relations with Iran and Hezbollah, and doing nothing to help matters either in Iraq or in the Mideast generally, despite being assured by Obama that he can do business with someone who is not “smoke ’em out” George Bush; North Korea’s unhinged rhetoric and occasional missile or torpedo shots escalate; Hugo Chávez is becoming more authoritarian and more anti-American; and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad apparently the tired American apologies for the removal of Mossadeq nearly sixty years ago still do not register. Note that in each of these instances, appeasement — failing to support the Iranian freedom protestors, ignoring the abuses of the Cuban and Syrian totalitarian regimes, and keeping silent about the destruction of democracy in Venezuela, has resulted in even more animus, just as appeasement of the unhinged and dictatorial always does. One might almost conclude that dictatorships hate American freedom, the global stature and power of the United States, and our propensity to oppose aggrandizement, and that they do not much care who happens in any given year to be in the White House. Then there are the big four: China is more confident today in confronting the Japanese and its other neighbors in the Pacific since it sees no obstacle to being the new ascendant power, flexing its growing muscles as Japan did in the 1920s, and imperial Germany at the turn of the 20th century; Turkey wishes to become the new Ottoman Empire, and it sees the United States as largely indifferent to its ambitions, and perhaps even quietly sympathetic; Relations with India are no better than they were under Bush, and perhaps less friendly; Russia, in contrast, seems to be quite fond of the Obama administration to the degree it is given concessions in return for empty promises. Pressuring Israel did not bring any Middle Eastern breakthrough: To the extent that there has not been another intifada, it is largely a result of a mini economic boom on the West Bank, which continues despite, rather than because of, American negotiating. Are our other allies, like Japan, South Korea, and Europe, suddenly much more friendly owing to Obama’s hope-and-change proclamations? Not really. All, for the first time in 60 years, have some suspicion that just maybe the sort of liberal American administration that they have so longed for might not be as ready as past administrations to come to their aid in the next crisis. Certainly, we have spent far more effort in winning over Putin than emphasizing our old alliances with Germany, France, and Britain. Japan and South Korea are starting to sense that their respective Communist rivals, China and North Korea, will soon become more their own problems than ours. The situations in Iraq and Afghanistan are now simply evolutions of the policies that George Bush had established when he left office. The “bad” war in Iraq that Obama campaigned against has become a better war than the “good” one in Afghanistan that he had hoped was over by virtue of NATO and U.N. approval. There has been no letup in radical Islamists’ efforts to kill us at home, as we saw in the cases of Major Hasan, Abdulmutallab, and the would-be Times Square bomber. What good Obama has achieved by resonating more effectively with the Middle East’s tired and poor is offset perhaps by the impression, fair or not, among would-be terrorists that he would not quite be as unpredictable and dangerous as past Presidents, should there be another 9/11-like attack. Obama’s efforts, and the global reactions to them, are reminding the world that global tensions still arise out of perceptions of self-interest, regardless of who is in the White House. When nations act contrary to American interests, they can be finessed somewhat by empathetic American officials, but they remain largely unaffected by apologies, bowing, promulgations of pseudo-history, and therapeutic mythologizing. Leaders like Putin, Assad, and Ahmadinejad act in their own perceived self-interests, calibrating to a constant desire to maximize influence, stature, and wealth at someone else’s expense is balanced by the risk of any confrontations that might ensue and the possibility that they might lose, all such calculations being more likely when the players are, like these three, autocratic in nature. In the end, Obama’s Carter-esque sermonizing over the past two years has achieved the opposite of its intended result: The preaching, confessionals, and outreach, from the ridiculous bowing to Saudi princes to the supposedly sublime Cairo mythmaking, have reminded the world that anti-Americanism transcends the unfair caricatures of George Bush and the hokey apotheosis of Barack Obama.

(“The Gift of Obama’s Foreign Policy” by Victor David Hanson dated October 6, 2010 published by National Review Online at http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/248883/gift-obama%E2%80%99s-foreign-policy-victor-davis-hanson )


* There is so much published each week that unless you search for it, you will miss important breaking news. I try to package the best of this information into my “Views on the News” each Saturday morning. Updates have been made this week to the following issue sections:

·  Bibliography at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/welcome/bibliography.php

·  Politics at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/intro/politics.php

·  Agriculture at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/agriculture.php

·  Budget at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/budget.php

·  Education at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/education.php


David Coughlin

Hawthorne, NY