23 December 2009

Updates to Nebraskaspending.gov

As you may have read in the Omaha World Herald (http://www.omaha.com/article/20091221/NEWS01/912219991).

On Monday, I continued my commitment to bringing transparency to Nebraska state government by putting the state's checkbook online. Nebraskans can now see exactly where their tax dollars are being spent, right down to the last penny.

This interactive list of 1.76 million payments made by the State of Nebraska includes all travel reimbursement, office supplies, state employee payroll and all other expenditures made by the State.

Here is a link to the new section of Nebraskaspending.gov:

Providing a more accountable and transparent government has always been one of my top priorities. I pledge to continue to improve and update nebraskaspending.gov during the next year.


21 December 2009

Americans for Prosperity Rally

In case you missed it, yesterday I was honored to be a speaker at Americans for Prosperity's health care rally. The crowd was tremendous and Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee did a great job. If you didn't make it the Omaha Music Hall, you can catch Governor Huckabee's speech here: http://hotair.com/archives/2009/12/20/quote-of-the-day-577/


04 July 2009

Happy Independence Day

I'm sure many of you may have come across this essay over the years. It's titled "The Americans Who Risked Everything" and it details what happened to the original 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. It was written by Rush Limbaugh, Jr., the father of the talk show host.

The story is inspirational, moving, and in some cases, very tragic. But it serves as a sober reminder of just how dedicated our Founders were to the cause of Liberty for their countrymen. There were no fence sitters, no consensus builders, and certainly no populists among them at the time -- only principled men who were wiling to die for the sake of freedom. And die most of them did.

This Independence Day I encourage you to take a moment with your family and reflect upon the real reason we celebrate this day. Find a copy of the Declaration of Independence and read it aloud. In the history of mankind I don't know if there has ever been a more poetic line than: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights...

Thank you so much for all that you do to make America great and I wish you and your family a wonderful Independence Day.

The Americans Who Risked Everything.
By: Rush Limbaugh, Jr.

It was a glorious morning. The sun was shining and the wind was from the southeast. Up especially early, a tall bony, redheaded young Virginian found time to buy a new thermometer, for which he paid three pounds, fifteen shillings. He also bought gloves for Martha, his wife, who was ill at home.

Thomas Jefferson arrived early at the statehouse. The temperature was 72.5 degrees and the horseflies weren't nearly so bad at that hour. It was a lovely room, very large, with gleaming white walls. The chairs were comfortable. Facing the single door were two brass fireplaces, but they would not be used today.

The moment the door was shut, and it was always kept locked, the room became an oven. The tall windows were shut, so that loud quarreling voices could not be heard by passersby. Small openings atop the windows allowed a slight stir of air, and also a large number of horseflies. Jefferson records that "the horseflies were dexterous in finding necks, and the silk of stockings was nothing to them." All discussing was punctuated by the slap of hands on necks.

On the wall at the back, facing the president's desk, was a panoply -- consisting of a drum, swords, and banners seized from Fort Ticonderoga the previous year. Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold had captured the place, shouting that they were taking it "in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!"

Now Congress got to work, promptly taking up an emergency measure about which there was discussion but no dissension. "Resolved: That an application be made to the Committee of Safety of Pennsylvania for a supply of flints for the troops at New York."

Then Congress transformed itself into a committee of the whole. The Declaration of Independence was read aloud once more, and debate resumed. Though Jefferson was the best writer of all of them, he had been somewhat verbose. Congress hacked the excess away. They did a good job, as a side-by-side comparison of the rough draft and the final text shows. They cut the phrase "by a self-assumed power." "Climb" was replaced by "must read," then "must" was eliminated, then the whole sentence, and soon the whole paragraph was cut. Jefferson groaned as they continued what he later called "their depredations." "Inherent and inalienable rights" came out "certain unalienable rights," and to this day no one knows who suggested the elegant change.

A total of 86 alterations were made. Almost 500 words were eliminated, leaving 1,337. At last, after three days of wrangling, the document was put to a vote.

Here in this hall Patrick Henry had once thundered: "I am no longer a Virginian, sir, but an American." But today the loud, sometimes bitter argument stilled, and without fanfare the vote was taken from north to south by colonies, as was the custom. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

There were no trumpets blown. No one stood on his chair and cheered. The afternoon was waning and Congress had no thought of delaying the full calendar of routine business on its hands. For several hours they worked on many other problems before adjourning for the day.

What kind of men were the 56 signers who adopted the Declaration of Independence and who, by their signing, committed an act of treason against the crown? To each of you, the names Franklin, Adams, Hancock and Jefferson are almost as familiar as household words. Most of us, however, know nothing of the other signers. Who were they? What happened to them?

I imagine that many of you are somewhat surprised at the names not there: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry. All were elsewhere.

Ben Franklin was the only really old man. Eighteen were under 40; three were in their 20s. Of the 56 almost half - 24 - were judges and lawyers. Eleven were merchants, nine were landowners and farmers, and the remaining 12 were doctors, ministers, and politicians.

With only a few exceptions, such as Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, these were men of substantial property. All but two had families. The vast majority were men of education and standing in their communities. They had economic security as few men had in the 18th Century.

Each had more to lose from revolution than he had to gain by it. John Hancock, one of the richest men in America, already had a price of 500 pounds on his head. He signed in enormous letters so that his Majesty could now read his name without glasses and could now double the reward. Ben Franklin wryly noted: "Indeed we must all hang together, otherwise we shall most assuredly hang separately."

Fat Benjamin Harrison of Virginia told tiny Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts: "With me it will all be over in a minute, but you, you will be dancing on air an hour after I am gone."

These men knew what they risked. The penalty for treason was death by hanging. And remember, a great British fleet was already at anchor in New York Harbor.
They were sober men. There were no dreamy-eyed intellectuals or draft card burners here. They were far from hot-eyed fanatics yammering for an explosion. They simply asked for the status quo. It was change they resisted. It was equality with the mother country they desired. It was taxation with representation they sought. They were all conservatives, yet they rebelled.

It was principle, not property, that had brought these men to Philadelphia. Two of them became presidents of the United States. Seven of them became state governors. One died in office as vice president of the United States. Several would go on to be U.S. Senators. One, the richest man in America, in 1828 founded the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. One, a delegate from Philadelphia, was the only real poet, musician and philosopher of the signers. (It was he, Francis Hopkinson not Betsy Ross who designed the United States flag.)

Richard Henry Lee, a delegate from Virginia, had introduced the resolution to adopt the Declaration of Independence in June of 1776. He was prophetic in his concluding remarks: "Why then sir, why do we longer delay? Why still deliberate? Let this happy day give birth to an American Republic. Let her arise not to devastate and to conquer but to reestablish the reign of peace and law.

"The eyes of Europe are fixed upon us. She demands of us a living example of freedom that may exhibit a contrast in the felicity of the citizen to the ever-increasing tyranny which desolates her polluted shores. She invites us to prepare an asylum where the unhappy may find solace, and the persecuted repost.

"If we are not this day wanting in our duty, the names of the American Legislatures of 1776 will be placed by posterity at the side of all of those whose memory has been and ever will be dear to virtuous men and good citizens."

Though the resolution was formally adopted July 4, it was not until July 8 that two of the states authorized their delegates to sign, and it was not until August 2 that the signers met at Philadelphia to actually put their names to the Declaration.

William Ellery, delegate from Rhode Island, was curious to see the signers' faces as they committed this supreme act of personal courage. He saw some men sign quickly, "but in no face was he able to discern real fear." Stephan Hopkins, Ellery's colleague from Rhode Island, was a man past 60. As he signed with a shaking pen, he declared: "My hand trembles, but my heart does not."

Even before the list was published, the British marked down every member of Congress suspected of having put his name to treason. All of them became the objects of vicious manhunts. Some were taken. Some, like Jefferson, had narrow escapes. All who had property or families near British strongholds suffered.

· Francis Lewis, New York delegate saw his home plundered -- and his estates in what is now Harlem -- completely destroyed by British Soldiers. Mrs. Lewis was captured and treated with great brutality. Though she was later exchanged for two British prisoners through the efforts of Congress, she died from the effects of her abuse.

· William Floyd, another New York delegate, was able to escape with his wife and children across Long Island Sound to Connecticut, where they lived as refugees without income for seven years. When they came home they found a devastated ruin.

· Philips Livingstone had all his great holdings in New York confiscated and his family driven out of their home. Livingstone died in 1778 still working in Congress for the cause.

· Louis Morris, the fourth New York delegate, saw all his timber, crops, and livestock taken. For seven years he was barred from his home and family.

· John Hart of Trenton, New Jersey, risked his life to return home to see his dying wife. Hessian soldiers rode after him, and he escaped in the woods. While his wife lay on her deathbed, the soldiers ruined his farm and wrecked his homestead. Hart, 65, slept in caves and woods as he was hunted across the countryside. When at long last, emaciated by hardship, he was able to sneak home, he found his wife had already been buried, and his 13 children taken away. He never saw them again. He died a broken man in 1779, without ever finding his family.

· Dr. John Witherspoon, signer, was president of the College of New Jersey, later called Princeton. The British occupied the town of Princeton, and billeted troops in the college. They trampled and burned the finest college library in the country.
· Judge Richard Stockton, another New Jersey delegate signer, had rushed back to his estate in an effort to evacuate his wife and children. The family found refuge with friends, but a Tory sympathizer betrayed them. Judge Stockton was pulled from bed in the night and brutally beaten by the arresting soldiers. Thrown into a common jail, he was deliberately starved. Congress finally arranged for Stockton's parole, but his health was ruined. The judge was released as an invalid, when he could no longer harm the British cause. He returned home to find his estate looted and did not live to see the triumph of the Revolution. His family was forced to live off charity.

· Robert Morris, merchant prince of Philadelphia, delegate and signer, met Washington's appeals and pleas for money year after year. He made and raised arms and provisions which made it possible for Washington to cross the Delaware at Trenton. In the process he lost 150 ships at sea, bleeding his own fortune and credit almost dry.

George Clymer, Pennsylvania signer, escaped with his family from their home, but their property was completely destroyed by the British in the Germantown and Brandywine campaigns.

· Dr. Benjamin Rush, also from Pennsylvania, was forced to flee to Maryland. As a heroic surgeon with the army, Rush had several narrow escapes.

· John Martin, a Tory in his views previous to the debate, lived in a strongly loyalist area of Pennsylvania. When he came out for independence, most of his neighbors and even some of his relatives ostracized him. He was a sensitive and troubled man, and many believed this action killed him. When he died in 1777, his last words to his tormentors were: "Tell them that they will live to see the hour when they shall acknowledge it [the signing] to have been the most glorious service that I have ever rendered to my country."

· William Ellery, Rhode Island delegate, saw his property and home burned to the ground.
· Thomas Lynch, Jr., South Carolina delegate, had his health broken from privation and exposures while serving as a company commander in the military. His doctors ordered him to seek a cure in the West Indies and on the voyage, he and his young bride were drowned at sea.

· Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, and Thomas Heyward, Jr., the other three South Carolina signers, were taken by the British in the siege of Charleston. They were carried as prisoners of war to St. Augustine, Florida, where they were singled out for indignities. They were exchanged at the end of the war, the British in the meantime having completely devastated their large landholdings and estates.

· Thomas Nelson, signer of Virginia, was at the front in command of the Virginia military forces. With British General Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown, fire from 70 heavy American guns began to destroy Yorktown piece by piece. Lord Cornwallis and his staff moved their headquarters into Nelson's palatial home. While American cannonballs were making a shambles of the town, the house of Governor Nelson remained untouched. Nelson turned in rage to the American gunners and asked, "Why do you spare my home?" They replied, "Sir, out of respect to you." Nelson cried, "Give me the cannon!" and fired on his magnificent home himself, smashing it to bits. But Nelson's sacrifice was not quite over. He had raised $2 million for the Revolutionary cause by pledging his own estates. When the loans came due, a newer peacetime Congress refused to honor them, and Nelson's property was forfeited. He was never reimbursed. He died, impoverished, a few years later at the age of 50.

Of those 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine died of wounds or hardships during the war. Five were captured and imprisoned, in each case with brutal treatment. Several lost wives, sons or entire families. One lost his 13 children. Two wives were brutally treated. All were at one time or another the victims of manhunts and driven from their homes. Twelve signers had their homes completely burned. Seventeen lost everything they owned. Yet not one defected or went back on his pledged word. Their honor, and the nation they sacrificed so much to create is still intact.

And, finally, there is the New Jersey signer, Abraham Clark.

He gave two sons to the officer corps in the Revolutionary Army. They were captured and sent to that infamous British prison hulk afloat in New York Harbor known as the hell ship Jersey, where 11,000 American captives were to die. The younger Clarks were treated with a special brutality because of their father. One was put in solitary and given no food. With the end almost in sight, with the war almost won, no one could have blamed Abraham Clark for acceding to the British request when they offered him his sons' lives if he would recant and come out for the King and Parliament. The utter despair in this man's heart, the anguish in his very soul, must reach out to each one of us down through 200 years with his answer: "No."

The 56 signers of the Declaration Of Independence proved by their every deed that they made no idle boast when they composed the most magnificent curtain line in history. "And for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

12 June 2009

Heritage Foundation Spotlights NebraskaSpending

Yesterday, I sat down with some analysts with the Heritage Foundation and spoke about NebraskaSpending.com and the need to bring better transparency to all levels of government. We also spoke about Operation Rightful Owner, a federal initiative that would reunite millions of Americans with unredeemed savings bonds. The Unredeemed U.S. Savings Bond Act of 2009, sponsored by Sens. Jay Rockefeller (WV) and Pat Robertson (Kan.) creates a state-federal partnership to help find the owners of 40 million savings bonds with a value of more than $16.5 billion.

Nebraska is owed $115 million! Now, that's a real economic stimulus package.

Here's a quick view of the article:

In the Green Room: Neb. State Treasurer Shane Osborn
In three short years as "Nebraska's CFO" Shane Osborn has revolutionized the way Nebraskans interact and keep tabs on their government. It's called NebraskaSpending.com and it cost only $38,000 to make.

21 April 2009


...reporters acting like reporters.

Jake Tapper and Jennifer Loven from the Associated Press grill Robert Gibbs over Obama asking his cabinet to trim $100 million from his budget. Paring off $100 million is roughly .0029% of the overall budget or the equivalent of one Starbucks latte a year.

My Tea Party Speech

I have received a good number of emails from people asking me if they could get a copy of the speech I delivered at the recent Tea Party in Omaha. So, rather than send out a mass email, I thought it would be easier to just post it here. Thanks again to everyone who participated in the Omaha and Lincoln Tea Parties and I look forward to seeing you all at the next one on July 4th.
Thank you all very much for coming here this evening in peaceful defiance of a government that has clearly overstepped its bounds.

I speak to you today not as an elected official, but as an average American who is enraged beyond words at the actions of this Congress and this President who seem to believe that the best way to help our nation recover from this recession is to tax us, our neighbors, and spend our children into utter oblivion.

“Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil and in its worst state an intolerable one.

“For when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”

Those rebellious words were written by the great Thomas Paine and how true they are. I was thinking recently about how dearly we need men like Mr. Paine right now, at this very moment in our own history, to provide our elected leaders with a reality check.

This budget, this administration, and this course of action our Congress is leading us down was not what was envisioned nor intended by our Founding Fathers who bestowed to the world the idea that was America. But you know what?

I think that what we have right now, brewing and manifesting itself all across the country today by average American citizens who share our frustration about the reckless government spending, is the very reality check our Congress and President need.

They cannot ignore us anymore.

These Tea Parties demonstrate that Americans have a limit; Americans value serving a cause greater than themselves. The great thing about serving a cause is that when things go terribly wrong, you have the chance to go out and DO something about it. You can change it. We can change it. We are changing it.

America is under attack from within. Our future, and our children’s future, is being decimated by unprecedented government spending and financial recklessness. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of sitting at home and yelling at my TV. If I wanted to live in France I would move to Paris.

I believe that our elected officials have a duty to show us, the taxpayer, exactly how they are spending our money.
That’s called transparency. And it’s something we practice right here in Nebraska. Transparency shouldn’t be a privilege that our government occasionally doles out to us whenever it feels like being benevolent.

Let’s be clear about something: Our elected leaders serve us. We are their boss. And the money the government uses to build its infrastructure, pay salaries, fund their pension plans, and support their outrageous pork projects comes from us.

The government didn’t earn this money; they took it from us in the form of taxes. Some politicians believe that paying high taxes is an act of high patriotism; that it’s part of being “American.”


Being “American” means having faith in your neighbor to do the right thing; it means believing in the sanctity of our individual liberties; it means defending at all costs the spirit and original intent of what our Framers inscribed in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution; and above all else, it means having the courage to take a stand against a tyrannical government even if it means you must stand alone.

But today, in cities and towns and homes all across this vast and incredible country of ours, people are taking a stand; people are standing up to a government that has absolutely lost its mind.

And we are not alone.

If this movement is going to be successful it will have to be maintained by us. The media is not going to help us one bit. But that’s fine. I like a good challenge.

It is an honor to stand among you today, shoulder to shoulder as we make known our grievances to this government that is doing everything it can to ignore us and discount our cause.

As Ronald Reagan said: “We have come to a time for choosing. Do we believe in our capacity for self-government or do we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them for ourselves.”

God Bless you all and God Bless America!

16 April 2009

Tea Party Reflections

At least 2,000. Probably even more. 

I don't think there was an open parking spot in all of downtown Omaha. This was easily one of the most awesome things I've ever taken part in and it was overwhelming to see so many Nebraskans energized, motivated and unified behind a common cause. 

I hope to have some photos posted shortly, but in the mean time here is a collection of stories about yesterday's movement. 

The Omaha World Herald did a nice job with their summary, but with all due respect to Don Walton and Lincoln Journal Star, I think their estimate of 600 people is off by about 500. I talked to numerous people who attended the Lincoln rally and they all thought it was closer to 1,000 participants.

As always, Michelle Malkin provides some great coverage as well as spot-on conservative commentary.

CNN was pitiful, condescending, and outright arrogant in their coverage:

And, as usual, FoxNews was there to respond as only they can. Here's Shepherd Smith with the quote of the year: "Don't get your hate on, Susan."

15 April 2009

Some Common Sense


I'm sure you all are aware of the Tea Parties that are taking place all across the country today. Fox News seems to be the only station taking us seriously since they have dispatched 5 television hosts to broadcast live at specific cities. 

In any event, please try to find some time tonight and join one of the 3 Tea Parties taking place in Omaha and Lincoln.

I will be attending the one at the Douglas County Courthouse.

Lincoln: Lancaster County Event Center (84th St. & Holdredge): 4pm to 6pm
Omaha: Douglas County Courthouse (1819 Farnam St.): 5pm to 7pm
Omaha: Millard Library (132nd St. & Westwood): 6pm to 8pm

14 April 2009

Nebraska Gets Another National Plug

I was in our nation's capitol a few weeks ago and had the distinct pleasure of visiting with House Republican Leader John Boehner. Congressman Boehner has just unveiled a new blog called GOP State Solutions which
is devoted to Congressional Republicans working with reform-minded GOP governors and state legislators to fight Washington bureaucracy, inefficiency, and waste and to promote better solutions to the challenges facing the American people.
During our conversation, I told Congressman Boehner about NebraskaSpending.com and he was immediately impressed. Like so many other elected officials across the country, he was under the impression that in order to create a transparency website, a state would have to spend millions of dollars. When I told him we created ours for only $35 thousand, his jaw nearly hit the floor.

So, he gave us a nice little shout-out in his blog:
In Nebraska, for example, State Treasurer Shane Osborn has created a user-friendly, inexpensive, and effective public website that allows citizens to monitor state spending activity.
One of the things NebraskaSpending.com has succeeded in doing, is demonstrate to both local and federal officials alike that effective public policy tools do not have to have an exorbitant price tag. My good friend Jason Petersen and the rest of his team over at Pickering Creative Group has done just a great job in making our website attractive, simple and easy to use.

Once again, Nebraska is setting the example for the rest of the country.

06 April 2009

Fox News Strategy Room Today

Great news! I am going to be on the Fox News internet program, Strategy Room, at 2:30pm today! This program is only available on line, but you can view it here: FoxNews Strategy Room.

One of things I hope to talk about is Nebraska's low unemployment rate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate is at 8.5% while Nebraska's has recently dropped to 4.1%.

We're doing things the right way here in Nebraska!

18 March 2009

Are You Going to the Omaha Tea Party?

I am so excited to be speaking at the Omaha Tea Party tonight at the Millard Library at 6:00pm. 

For those of you who may be unfamiliar, these Tea Parties are being organized all across the country by average American citizens who are concerned and outraged by the recent trend of fiscal recklessness perpetrated by our government. 

This is a non-partisan event because both political parties are guilty of wasting our hard-earned tax dollars. As an elected official, I have a steadfast belief that our citizens are far better equipped to spend their money than our federal government. We are witnessing a frightening expansion of Big Government entitlements that is anathema to what our Founders had intended for us.

One of the best and most effective ways we can thwart this kind of government incompetence is to utilize technology to make our system completely transparent. That was one of the reason why I created NebraskaSpending.com: to give you, the taxpayer, a more honest form of government.

Please, I encourage all of you to stop by the Millard Library tonight and participate.

13 March 2009

Nebraska grabs national attention again

Just wanted to pass this along to everyone. 

A few weeks ago the DC Examiner interviewed me regarding my transparency website, NebraskaSpending.com. There has been a huge push over the last few years for more states to start creating similar state spending websites but unfortunately legislators are resisting due to their perception that such a project would cost millions of dollars.

That's why NebraskaSpending.com has become so popular to the taxpayer advocacy groups: we built it for only $38,000. Showing receipts to taxpayers does not have to be a pricey venture. 

Enjoy the article.

Putting ‘service’ back in public office

Virginia legislators who reportedly are laying out “seven figures” to put state spending online, should have paid attention when Nebraska state treasurer Shane Osborn wrote recently to say he could do it for much less. After all, he’d already done it for Nebraska. But to date the Virginia solons have not taken up the Nebraskan’s offer.

Osborn is a former Navy pilot whose plane crashed in 2001 after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet in international air space. The near-death experience, for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, clarified things for him, and when Osborn retired from the Navy he had a new mission: Put the “service” back in public office.

In the first year of his first term as Nebraska state treasurer (after defeating his own party’s incumbent), Osborn posted the entire state budget online. Nebraskaspending.com is searchable, user-friendly and interactive. It clearly explains where Nebraska’s $6.8 billion in revenue comes from (56.3 percent from state taxes, 32.4 percent from the federal government), how it’s spent, and lists all contracts signed in 2007 - including agencies, contract dates, vendors, description of services, and exactly how much Nebraskans are paying for them. The website so far has had over 600,000 unique visitors who spend 18 minutes on average keeping tabs on their elected officials. Next, he’s planning to add city, public school, and state university budgets to the mix.

Osborn didn’t beg the legislature for funds or spend millions of tax dollars, either. “I used my own staff to compile the data,” he told The Examiner. “We worked with other agencies and just hunted it down.” The total cost: $38,000 – most of it going to a local web designer. A state IT grant provided $25,000 and Osborn took the remaining $13,000 from his own budget. “I just viewed it as my job,” he said. “Citizens have a right to know who the state does business with.”

Osborn isn’t just about making state spending transparent. He has also hired a collection agency to find owners of unclaimed property in Nebraska. In the program’s first year, Osborn returned an unprecedented $12 million – in amounts ranging from $900 to $600,000 – to more than a million surprised and grateful people. He’s now spearheading a national pilot project to digitize unclaimed property records so they can be available online. Can this guy be cloned?

12 March 2009

Middle East Seminar: Day 3

The problem we face in countries struggling to make the conversion to privatization and capitalism reminds me of my time in late 2000 while flying surveillance missions out of Ecuador. At the time, the United States faced a drawn out and uncertain election for the Presidency between George W. Bush and Al Gore. 

The lengthy and infamous legal battle cause many Ecuadorians, as well as those I met in South and Central America, to question me about our electoral college. For the most part, their concerns can be summed up thusly: 
"If the United States is supposed to be the global example of Democracy and be responsible for overseeing our elections, how then is your country unable to determine the outcome of your own President?"
That question, which to Americans may seem overly naive and simplistic, is a microcosm of a much larger issue: the United States, like it or not, sets the example of liberty for the rest of the world. 

Today, I see the same type of question with the free market. 

Egyptian officials were clear in their hesitation and mild disgust towards their country's efforts to convert (albeit slowly) to our economic system for over 15 years. Now, they are made to believe that the U.S. economy is broken. They do not dig into the details as to what caused our current financial crisis and are unaware that the Congress forced our lending institutions into making bad loans. They believe, as do most our own countrymen, that an open and transparent government mechanism could have prevented many of these problems.

Whether it's in the U.S. economy or other global markets, transparency is the only hope we have in returning trust and confidence to our financial system and the world in general. If the government is going to continue to use our taxes to pay for their projects, infrastructure and general well-being of our country, than we have every right to see a receipt for how those tax dollars are being utilized.

That's called accountability.

This was truly music to my ears to hear these Egyptian diplomats demand transparency in their own government and in the aid the United States provides around the world. While we will continue to disagree with many of the approaches used by Egypt in the realm of human rights and democracy issues, we did find common ground on a major aspect of how a government should be run.

11 March 2009

Middle East Seminar: Day 2

The drive here reminded me of the past trips I've had to the Middle East while in the Navy except on a much larger scale. 

Once you've encountered it, you never forget the true meaning of absolute poverty. Thousands of Shanties built on top of dilapidated buildings stand in stark contrast to the opulent palaces built literally across the  street. It's such a surreal sight. 

I've always held the belief that a person cannot truly appreciate the blessings of America until they have traveled abroad. There is a reason why Ronald Reagan called our country the "shining city upon a hill."

The same man, President Mubarak, has ruled Egypt for 28 years. He was "democratically" elected. We met with Egypt's International Economic Forum where the message about U.S. Aid (which President Bush cut in half last year) was:
1. Can Egypt get an increase?
2. Stop telling Egypt how to spend it.
3. Stop harping on Egypt about Human Rights and the idea of true democracy -- they will move at their own pace towards both of those ends.

Our time in Egypt is about up and we will be leaving for Israel soon. I really hope we find some time to visit the pyramids. 

10 March 2009

Middle East Seminar with Aspen Institute: Day 1

Utter exhaustion. After 32 hours of travel, we arrived in Cairo late Sunday night. Our first meeting was with Ambassador Margaret Scobey: a woman with a lifelong career in the State Department and extremely knowledgeable in foreign affairs. 

Egypt is such an interesting country with several unique identities. The largest Arab country on Earth (and by far one of the most influential) they balance this by competing with South Africa as leaders of the African continent along with their own storied legacy of Egyptian accomplishments. Cairo has 25 million people and their lifeline is the Nile. Their interests are driven not only by religious and cultural allegiances, but also by geographic needs. Bordering the Gaza strip requires constant diplomacy with the Israelis and a willingness to work with their government. The election of Netanyahu leaves many questions especially on a two state solution.

Darfur is also on their border. Over 1 million refugees have fled to this already crowded country and Egypt has a peacekeeping presence in Darfur to help prevent any more. Tourism and the Suez Canal are the two main sources of revenue and their banks are extremely conservative benefitting the country greatly in the current global economic climate.