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.