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ccp
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« on: March 23, 2011, 01:08:12 PM »

I like this part:

"When Bismarck introduced the world’s first state pension system in 1889, he set the retirement age at 70, some 25 years beyond the average Prussian’s life expectancy, so it did not cost much to run. When America brought in its Social Security system in 1935, average life expectancy was only 62. In the OECD countries men on average now live to 76 and women to 82. In most rich countries raising the pension age to, say, 70 by 2025, and thereafter linking it to life expectancy (which keeps on increasing), would go a long way towards reducing the government’s structural deficit."

and this one:

"Another cause for pessimism is that government does not respond to normal pressures. Most obviously, there is rarely the threat of bankruptcy. Indeed, most of the examples of efficient government involve warfare or other crises. The idea that business skills do not translate to politics would seem to be borne out by the string of businesspeople who have failed to make much of a mark in government. Silvio Berlusconi has achieved a lot less as Italy’s prime minister than he did in business. A more successful transplant from the media industry, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, says he had not realised how different running a city would be: “People are motivated by different things and you face a much more intrusive press. You cannot pay good staff a lot of money…In business you experiment and you back the projects that win. The healthy bits get the money, and the unhealthy bits wither. In government the unhealthy bits get all the attention because they have the fiercest defenders.”

Full article:

The gods that have failed—so far
Could technology and good management bring the public-sector up to scratch?
Mar 17th 2011 | from the print edition
 ASKED to talk about how technology affects productivity, Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist who backed Facebook, draws a simple graph on his whiteboard: input on the Y axis, output on the X axis. He then dabs on two blobs. The private sector goes in the bottom right (you put in relatively little and get out a lot); government goes in the top left: a lot of input and very little output.

Mr Thiel, a prominent libertarian, may be unsympathetic to the public sector, but his chart is not a bad guide to the past 40 years or so. Productivity in government is difficult to measure and statisticians have generally stopped trying to come up with precise figures. But such numbers as there are all point in the same direction. With a few small exceptions, government lags behind the private sector.

Two closely related things have transformed the private sector since 1970. The more obvious one is technology: think what ATMs did for banking. But management ideas—everything from profit-related pay to lean manufacturing—have arguably done even more to raise productivity. Toyota spent less on computers and robots than General Motors did; it won by out-managing its rival.
The public sector has certainly dabbled in both these things. From Berlin to Bangkok, every big consultancy has a thriving public-sector practice. Many of the ghastliest examples of management-speak come from the public sector. And some of the biggest disasters in public spending have involved technology, such as the attempt to link up Britain’s health records nationwide. But neither has really changed government profoundly.

The pessimistic explanation is that they never will: there are good reasons why the public sector will always be resistant to change. Optimists have to make the case that “this time will be different,” which is harder. But just this once it could be true.

Government is different

Begin with the depressingly long list of reasons to be pessimistic. The most fundamental one remains the Baumol effect: labour-intensive services, such as nursing and teaching, have thus far proved as immune to productivity-enhancing technology as string quartets.

Another cause for pessimism is that government does not respond to normal pressures. Most obviously, there is rarely the threat of bankruptcy. Indeed, most of the examples of efficient government involve warfare or other crises.

The idea that business skills do not translate to politics would seem to be borne out by the string of businesspeople who have failed to make much of a mark in government. Silvio Berlusconi has achieved a lot less as Italy’s prime minister than he did in business. A more successful transplant from the media industry, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, says he had not realised how different running a city would be: “People are motivated by different things and you face a much more intrusive press. You cannot pay good staff a lot of money…In business you experiment and you back the projects that win. The healthy bits get the money, and the unhealthy bits wither. In government the unhealthy bits get all the attention because they have the fiercest defenders.”

There are even ideological reasons why liberals in particular should want to keep the state relatively inefficient. Joseph Nye, a former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School and author of a book on power, says that Americans do not really want their state to work too well: “There is something special about government. It has coercive power, so it is essential that you have a healthy scepticism of it.”

So why should this time be different? The immediate reason is that in many countries the state is now so bloated that, even without changing the basic structure of government, it could be made much more efficient.

In the short term, assuming a recovering economy, government can surely be slimmed relatively painlessly—if only because it has grown so fat. The howls across Europe about unprecedented budget crises ignore three things. First, Sweden and Canada have chopped their public sectors after financial crises and lived to tell the tale (albeit against a much more clement global economic backdrop). Second, most European countries need do no more than reduce government spending to its level of three or four years ago. And third, many of the cuts are tiny by private-sector standards. At a private dinner in Paris recently a group of French businesspeople listened politely to a politician moaning about his department having to reduce its costs by 5%, until one of the private-sector bosses pointed out that he had knocked out a fifth of his costs in a little over two years. The politician shut up.

People can argue over the respective virtues of making across-the-board cuts or targeting particular departments (they usually do a bit of both), but managerially speaking it is not a tough ask. Reforming American defence procurement does not require structural change, just making use of the Pentagon’s clout with suppliers. A recent study by the National Audit Office showed that Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) could save £500m (well over $800m) a year by bundling its buying power; there is no need for hospital trusts to buy 21 different forms of A4 file paper and 652 different kinds of surgical gloves.

In the longer term, though, two sorts of opportunities present themselves: changing what the state does; and changing its structure. The first set tends to be administratively (fairly) simple but politically hard. For instance, getting rid of industrial and agricultural subsidies makes sense, but politicians cling to them. Even bigger potential “quick wins”, though ones fraught with political difficulty, are to be found in pensions. Switching state employees from defined-benefit to defined-contribution plans and raising their retirement ages to prevailing private-sector levels would save most governments a fortune—but not as much as upping the age at which everyone starts receiving their state pension.

When Bismarck introduced the world’s first state pension system in 1889, he set the retirement age at 70, some 25 years beyond the average Prussian’s life expectancy, so it did not cost much to run. When America brought in its Social Security system in 1935, average life expectancy was only 62. In the OECD countries men on average now live to 76 and women to 82. In most rich countries raising the pension age to, say, 70 by 2025, and thereafter linking it to life expectancy (which keeps on increasing), would go a long way towards reducing the government’s structural deficit.

In America Social Security is known as the “third rail” of politics: state pensions electrocute any politician who touches them. But the case for increasing retirement ages is overwhelming. It also begins to open the door to a proper debate about social transfers, including things like means-tested benefits. That argument will be much easier to make if the second set of opportunities to do with updating the structure of the state has been grasped.

On this score, unlike on benefits and transfers, almost everyone agrees what needs to be done. Britain’s Tony Blair puts it this way: “The modern Western state was created in the era of mass production and command and control, where governments told you what to do and provided everything. Modern life is about choice—and the state, even if it pays for something, should not be the only choice.” He argues that creating “a post-bureaucratic state”, with a small centre and a multitude of public and private providers, should be a particular cause for the centre-left to embrace. “In every other walk of life a citizen gets services from bodies that are anxious for their business. We have to open up the state to transparency and competition, or else anyone who is rich enough will pay to opt out.”

Mr Blair has no truck with the idea that the public sector is bound to keep growing. The key, he thinks, lies in breaking the state down into innovative smaller units, like charter schools in America and academies in Britain. “As more and more choices are made by consumers, not politicians, we will shrink the state,” he predicts.

As is his wont, Mr Blair tends to be more messianic about this than most politicians. But to see how such ideas might work, consider two changes in the car industry. First, in the era of mass production Ford did not just make its own steel; it also owned the fields on which grazed the sheep whose wool went into the covers of its car seats. Now it contracts out much of this, even though its name remains on the car. Second, in the 1970s there was a big gap between the quality of the output and the efficiency of, say, Japanese carmakers and their American peers. Now competition has minimised that advantage (and no longer always in favour of the Japanese).

Don’t do it yourself

For its part, the public sector in many countries still wants to do everything itself. Surprisingly, America, the country that has preached the Washington consensus of privatisation to the world, still owns a lot of its railways, ports and water systems; it also makes less use of for-profit schools than does Sweden. And if Britain’s gargantuan NHS were to contract out as much of its business as the French and Dutch health services do, it would be a lot more efficient. The District of Columbia has shown how much can be saved by outsourcing: it has reduced its e-mail costs by 80% and its video-hosting costs by 90% by moving them to Google and YouTube respectively.

The huge variance in performance between different bits of the public sector that do the same thing is shocking. Sweden spends half as much on health care per person as America does, yet Swedes live longer. Research on degree courses at public universities shows that some Western countries spend 30% above the average on a degree whereas others remain 70% below it, says Lenny Mendonca, a public-sector expert at McKinsey. “In anything even resembling a free market, many of the best-performing public institutions would have wiped out all the others,” he adds.

Variance within countries is harder for public-sector unions and other local vested interests to ignore. Sir John Oldham, an expert in health productivity, points to two similar adjacent areas in southern England where “unscheduled admissions” to hospitals (ie, the expensive sort) vary by a factor of eight; in another there is a 13-fold difference in the number of hospital referrals from similar doctors’ practices.

By reducing these variances, quality would be improved and a huge amount of cash could be saved. Sir John has calculated that if every NHS organisation in Britain currently operating at costs one standard deviation above the mean were to improve its performance to the mean level, the NHS would save somewhere close to the £15 billion it is supposed to find over the next five years.

It is about care as well as costs. The McKinsey Global Institute points out that at some American hospitals nurses spend under 40% of their time with patients. Naming and shaming is one way of getting better results. Sweden’s health registries, a much-cited example, provide statistics on the performance of individual hospitals. The fear of coming out badly in a national league table is a powerful incentive to try harder. A study by the Boston Consulting Group found that Sweden’s National Cataract Register not only reduced the severity of astigmatism resulting from eye surgery but also narrowed the variance between the best and worst hospitals by half.

Just wait till they find out

With such examples in mind, some argue that government reform will be akin to a popular revolution, driven by the spread of information. Just as American motorists, resigned to cars that broke down, rapidly ditched Detroit’s products once they found they could buy cars that worked, so American parents will no longer tolerate the excuses of the teachers’ unions when they discover that children get a much better and cheaper education elsewhere.

There is something in this. Few politicians now question the need to publish school-performance tables, despite the furious fusillades from the unions when they were introduced. One education minister argues that the most powerful force in school reform now is the OECD’s international PISA ranking (see chart 6). “Waiting for Superman”, a documentary by Davis Guggenheim, the director who made “An Inconvenient Truth”, but this time attacking America’s teachers’ unions rather than climate-change deniers, was a big hit. As charter schools and the like outperform their peers, there is pressure to break up the old fiefs and introduce competition.

Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School, perhaps the world’s most respected writer on innovation, thinks the public sector will be upset by what he calls “mutants”—new organisms spinning out of it. He points to the success of Guaranteach, an online store of teaching videos set up by two former teachers in 2008, and other similar outfits.

A new wave of frugal innovation coming from emerging markets will also make an impact on the public sector. South Korea is a leader in education testing. India is taking a dramatically different approach to health care. It has found a way to reduce the cost of heart operations by setting up huge hospitals that can reap economies of scale. It is already cheaper for Westerners to fly to India as health tourists than to have treatment at home.

Many think the web will shift the balance of power between the public sector and its clients. Worried about your child’s school? You can join a discussion group on Facebook. Furious with the American government? You can see how much it is costing you at mygovcost.org. Fed up with Britain’s lousy roads? Go to fixmystreet.org. Don Tapscott, one of the cleverer cybergurus and co-author of “Macrowikinomics”, points to the rise of “prosumers”: rather than merely accepting what the government offers, citizens will shape new services as they appear. Places like the District of Columbia and Canada’s province of New Brunswick have been pioneers, spurred on by a new generation of younger, more web-savvy civil servants. Even health care—the field most resistant to change—could be turned upside down (see article).

So a bottom-up revolution is under way. But for all the obvious reasons, it is advancing more slowly than it did in the private sector. For instance, a recent survey by the New York Times of failed schools in eight American states that were bad enough to get federal turnaround money showed that 44% of the schools’ principals had kept their jobs. Resources are another problem: there are fewer computers in the public sector than in the private because many government departments still do not distinguish capital budgets from operating ones.

Mr Christensen thinks one of the main problems is the lack of a common language. As a young academic he was able to persuade Intel to change course by telling its bosses that the sort of disruptive change that had happened in steel (the arrival of cheap mini-mills) would also happen in chipmaking. Yet when he goes to health-care conferences, he says, nobody uses the same terminology. Doctors, insurers, hospitals and politicians all talk about completely different things: “The only people who could really bang heads together would be the federal government.”

Indeed, for all the evidence of mounting pressure from below, a command-and-control organisation will change only when the top wants it to do so. And here most Western countries have something in common with China: leaders are scared. Some attempts to institutionalise innovation have been made. Geoff Mulgan points out that America has committed $650m to a schools-innovation fund; Britain has allocated £200m to health. Barack Obama has appointed Vivek Kundra, the man who led the District of Columbia’s technology drive, as America’s first chief information officer. Mr Kundra has already saved $3 billion by culling programmes.

Yet the same Mr Obama has recently delivered a budget to Congress that does nothing to reform entitlements. It is not just the threats from vested interests that inhibit progress. Mr Mulgan explains that the first wave of privatising governments in the 1980s and 1990s often did badly at the ballot box. Voters could not see enough change to justify the aggravation. And sometimes restructuring was done in several phases, so it was not clear who was responsible for the good things.

The recent economic crisis has changed minds. There now seems to be far greater acceptance that government is broken, and voters are more prepared to give their leaders leeway to mend it. Even if the debate has barely begun to tackle benefits and social transfers, that still gives politicians an opportunity. In various American states governors have seized it. But on a national scale nobody has grabbed it with more gusto than an Old Etonian Tory.

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ccp
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« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2011, 01:25:24 PM »

I like this quote from John Stuart Mill who has one of the higest estimated IQ's in history:

" John Stuart Mill, himself a civil servant, famously defined this minimalism: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”

Also this part:

"The bolder reforms, championed by Mr Cameron’s main domestic adviser, Steve Hilton, are centred on structure. They are hidden behind a confusing slogan that the Tories adopted to make themselves sound cuddlier: “The Big Society”. It brings together three things: pluralism, localism and voluntarism.
How to get there
To promote pluralism, the Tories aim to build the “post-bureaucratic state” that Tony Blair wanted (they even use the same phrase). Haunted by the idea that Mr Blair did not move fast enough, they are rushing to hand over many more state services to outside providers."

Full article:

***Big society
Radical ideas from a fusty old island
Mar 17th 2011 | from the print edition
 FOR all its pomp and tradition, Britain has played an outsized role in promoting radical thought about the state. In the 19th century it championed modernisation, with the same liberal Victorians who campaigned for free trade (and set up this newspaper) also dismantling the courtly system under which posts in government were sold off or given to political allies. The Northcote-Trevelyan report of 1854 led to the creation of a politically neutral civil service, with appointments made on merit. Liberals prided themselves on the leanness of a state that ruled India with a few thousand bureaucrats. John Stuart Mill, himself a civil servant, famously defined this minimalism: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”

Yet as the 19th century wore on, “New Liberals”, including Mill himself, began to question the morality of the “night-watchman state”. How could liberty flourish when so many people lived in misery and ignorance? Reforming governments introduced compulsory education, laws to regulate safety at work, tax-funded libraries and welfare—all robustly condemned by Herbert Spencer in his libertarian bible, “The Man versus the State” (1884). But the intellectual traffic was mainly towards more intervention, with socialists (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were based in London) and then Fabians taking New Liberal arguments to the extreme. A more active state became the answer.

Britain continued in that vein for most of the 20th century, with the Depression only increasing anti-market sentiment. In 1938 an ambitious young right-wing MP surveyed the British economy: “The weakness of partial planning seems to me to arise from the incomplete and limited application of the principles of planning. The lesson of these errors, which I regard as errors of limitation, is not that we should retreat. On the contrary, we must advance, more rapidly and still further, upon the road of conscious regulation.” Harold Macmillan went on to become a post-war Conservative prime minister, which shows how far the centre had shifted.

Gradually, however, an anti-state right began to emerge. In 1960 Friedrich Hayek wrote “The Constitution of Liberty”, partly in response to what he saw in Britain. In 1978 another young Tory with a Macmillanish pedigree, William Waldegrave, took a very different line in “The Binding of Leviathan”: “No one knows how to run bureaucracies. Bureaucracies are increasing. No wonder the public thinks something is wrong.” In 1979 Margaret Thatcher hurled herself at these bureaucracies—and a new creed, very different from Fabianism, rippled out across the world.

Now the promise of renewed radicalism is in the air. David Cameron’s coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is pursuing the most daring course in the rich world. That judgment is based on two things: the severity of its spending cuts (many departments are being slimmed by a fifth) and the fact that it is trying to change the structure of the state.

The spending cuts currently dominate the British media. Manchester is in turmoil because it will be reduced to only one public lavatory. The Tories are plainly taking an economic gamble by tightening fiscal policy so fast, but seem less fixated on the overall size of the state than Mrs Thatcher was. For political reasons they left health care, perhaps the most wasteful part of the British state, out of the cuts. One senior Tory thinks you cannot reduce state spending below around 40% of GDP, or the politics will turn against you.

The bolder reforms, championed by Mr Cameron’s main domestic adviser, Steve Hilton, are centred on structure. They are hidden behind a confusing slogan that the Tories adopted to make themselves sound cuddlier: “The Big Society”. It brings together three things: pluralism, localism and voluntarism.

How to get there

To promote pluralism, the Tories aim to build the “post-bureaucratic state” that Tony Blair wanted (they even use the same phrase). Haunted by the idea that Mr Blair did not move fast enough, they are rushing to hand over many more state services to outside providers. They have opened the doors to Swedish-style free schools set up by parents, and they want more parts of welfare to be delivered by outsiders, paid by results. They have also announced the biggest shake-up in the history of the health service by shifting spending power to groups of general practitioners, who will buy in services from both public and private hospitals.

Haste has caused problems. Whereas the education reforms follow on neatly from the academies that Mr Blair set up, the changes in the health service, introduced with little prior warning, come just as the system is adapting to the previous round of reforms. Oddly for a party that believes in the free market, the Tories have rejected for-profit providers for some services, notably education.

Even so, pluralism could lead to a much smaller civil service than anyone thinks. “Once you start letting people compete, it is incredible how few people you need in the centre,” says one of Britain’s most senior mandarins. And, since the change is technocratic not political (the state, after all, is still paying), it will be difficult for a future Labour government to reverse.

Handing over control of schools to parents and medicine to local doctors also fits in with localism. The Tories want more cities to have elected police chiefs and, eventually, elected mayors, like London’s Boris Johnson. They are providing reams of information to make government more transparent; a new crime map of Britain’s streets crashed on its launch day because so many people wanted to see it. Combined with pluralism, this amounts to a substantial attack on the centralised state. For instance, Suffolk County Council hopes to knock a third off its budget of £500m by becoming a “virtual” authority that outsources all but a handful of its services to social enterprises or companies.

This localism is somewhat marred by the Tories’ deep distrust of local government. Handing over schools to local associations risks creating bodies that can be taken over by teachers’ unions, as in America. Lord Adonis, a Blairite who now heads the Institute for Government, a think-tank, argues that the Tories should also have given more power to elected local mayors, especially in the 14 big cities where one in three Britons live. Apparently Tory and Liberal-Democrat local councillors took against this.

Volunteer, or else

Volunteerism, the idea of Burkean small platoons taking on the functions of the state, is the trickiest part. On paper, this is a big idea. The people around Mr Cameron argue that just reducing the supply of government won’t wean people off the state; you also have to reduce the demand for it. That persistent demand, after all, has been the main reason for sprawling government from California to Cardiff.

In practice, however, the idea has flaws. Running your local library sounds attractive, but most people lack the time and expertise required, and there is not a lot of money around to help them (thanks to the spending cuts). Britons seem to band together of their own accord only when they want to oppose something—such as the government’s plans to sell off the nation’s forests, which they halted.

To be fair to the Tories, the Big Society is not their only scheme to reduce demand for government. Their welfare reforms are based on moving poorer Britons away from dependence on the state. A lot of state spending is “avoidable”, argues one insider: if you can get people into jobs, strengthen families, stop teenagers getting pregnant and teach children early, you will save a fortune a decade hence. Just two particularly troublesome families have cost British taxpayers £37m over three generations.

The Cameroonians are also trying to do something about the tangle of regulation that costs the British economy around 10-12% of GDP. A neat scheme whereby any new rule would have to show a net decrease in regulation was shelved after civil servants gamed the system. One of Mr Cameron’s advisers, Oliver Letwin, is now working on another plan. But not all the regulation is domestic. A British Chambers of Commerce study of 144 new rules in 1998-2010 put the total cost at £88 billion, of which two-thirds was attributable to European Union legislation.

Implementation is crucial: unless reform of the state is seen to be equitable and effective, citizens will not accept it. But with that huge caveat, two things stand out. First, the government’s breadth of ambition is impressive—even set against that of Mrs Thatcher, who did far less in her first year. And second, most other rich-world governments will have to do something similar soon. That is partly because of their fiscal situation: even America will have to start reconciling its revenues and its spending in the near future. And once you start to cut, you need to decide what should go and what should remain. Mr Cameron, for all his haste, is at the front of a great wave. In that, he resembles Mrs Thatcher—and those great reformers of the 19th century.
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ccp
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« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2011, 01:28:55 PM »

"Seize the Moment" is the last one I wanted to post but it won't let me, 5 is the limit this week

It can be found at the website:

http://www.economist.com/printedition/
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« Reply #3 on: March 23, 2011, 02:46:21 PM »

(From CCP: ""Seize the Moment" is the last one I wanted to post but it won't let me")
A special report on the future of the state
Seize the moment
The prospects for reforming the state have improved, but it will be a long haul

Mar 17th 2011 | from The Economist print edition

HOW far and how fast could reform of the state go? For now that question seems fanciful, like asking how a man who has been getting fatter for decades would do in a marathon. Yet fatalism about an unreformable state seems misguided.

To begin with, the patient is not in his current condition by design. In a forthcoming book about the role of the state, Vito Tanzi, an Italian-born economist, shows that it changed dramatically during the 20th century. Demands on it grew continuously, and theories of what it might capably do expanded to meet those demands. What began as a “normative” state, designed to offset market failures and help the poor, broadened immensely to become an active redistributor of wealth and creator of universal public goods, hoovered up by the middle class in particular.

“If something cannot go on for ever”, Herb Stein once pointed out, “it will stop.” There are several reasons to think that some time soon—maybe next year, maybe later this decade—the seemingly endless expansion of the state will begin to go into reverse. One is the political pressure from deficits. The shape of the state could be the main issue in America’s presidential election next year. Even left-wing governments are increasingly looking at the spending side of the ledger.

Globalisation is another. Commerce has proved stickier than the proponents of borderless capitalism proclaimed in the 1990s, but it is less sticky than it was. The mobility of talent, technology and capital surely puts some limit on governments’ ability to keep on raising taxes. Government is becoming a more competitive business, not just in terms of lower spending but also in what it offers for the money.

Above all, the incremental benefits of ever bigger government, even assuming it was somehow affordable, become ever smaller. Decent-sized government can reduce inequality and poverty, but most of the evidence is that gargantuan government merely gets in the way of social progress. A state that takes up more than half the economy begins to deliver an ever worse deal to ever more people in the middle: the extra benefits become harder to detect, the extra costs harder to hide.

Guessing when this penny will eventually drop is a little like speculating when an investment bubble will burst or a dictator will fall. There are always reasons for delay but, once things begin to move, they do so quickly. A revolution in government would come in three stages.

The first, which this special report has concentrated on, might simply be described as good management. Purely by copying what other countries (or bits of their own system) do well, governments could save a huge amount of money. The path forward is pretty clear—towards a small central state buying in services from a variety of different providers. Technology could speed things up. A huge quantity of information about just how poorly bits of government are doing is becoming available—and, thanks to Facebook and other new media, shareable. Transparency will also affect demand. Too many voters are “Californians”: they think they can enjoy ever more services without paying for them. When they see the true cost of government, they may change their minds.

Within the public sector, mayors and senior civil servants could play a pre-eminent role. Not only do many public services, such as education and the police, work best at city level; cities are natural test-tubes for experimentation. In the urban West, mayors can still change things visibly: think of what Rudy Giuliani did for crime in New York. As for senior civil servants, most feel despised, underpaid and deeply frustrated. More than anybody else, they stand to gain from a world where government works.

Good management sounds a little worthy, but it could achieve a lot. Imagine, for instance, that Mr Cameron succeeds in creating a “post-bureaucratic” state in Britain. You might end up with a government that delivered the same range of services—defence, justice, education, health care and so on—but consumed perhaps 40% of GDP, roughly ten points less than it does now.

Could it go further? The second stage is more difficult: limiting the scope of those services, especially the universal benefits enjoyed by most Western voters. Social transfers have accounted for a large part of the growth in the state: they also explain why even a well-run version of Britain’s all-you-can-eat “buffet” state would be twice the size of Singapore’s. Unless Western governments start to reform entitlements, the state will swell again in line with their ageing populations.

Some universal benefits can be trimmed across the board. State pension ages, for instance, are on the rise. But governments also need to start redirecting social programmes at the truly needy.

Persuading middle-class voters to give up their perks will be extremely hard. One possible avenue is to hand them greater control over their own benefits, perhaps by switching pay-as-you-go systems to individual savings accounts (like Singapore’s Central Provident Fund). That has not had much success yet—in part because most people, especially the young, are in the dark about how much the current system is really costing them. Tax simplification would help. A bipartisan commission on fiscal reform last year said that if the American government abolished all tax breaks (including middle-class ones like mortgage-interest relief), it could reduce the top individual tax rate from 35% to 23% and still generate $80 billion more revenue. Again, limiting benefits will be a colossal struggle.

Rules not OK

The final stage—untangling the web of rules—would on the face of it be less controversial. Everybody agrees that there are too many regulations. But in practice it could be the most fiddly to sort out. The European Parliament does not cost much to run, but it litters the continent with expensive rules. One in five American workers needs a licence to do his job. Sunset clauses to make laws expire in the absence of political reapproval would help.

This special report has tried to be pragmatic, focusing on what works. At the moment it is hard to see that society would gain much from even larger government, and easy to spot the gains in productivity, efficiency and personal freedom that would come from smaller government. States exist not only to lead society towards common goals; they must also provide people with the liberty to live their own lives. Over the past century government has moved too far towards the former. Now is the time to turn the dial back. Nothing would add more to the sum of human happiness in the West than a smaller, better state.
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Body-by-Guinness
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« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2011, 12:01:18 PM »

One of the things I often find myself embroiled in is the termination of underperforming employees. This stat doesn't pass the stink test of anyone who's stood in line at the post office, et al:

Out of 1.2 Million Federal Employees, Only 737 Denied Raises for Poor Performance
4:02 PM, MAR 22, 2011    • BY MARK HEMINGWAYSingle PagePrintLarger TextSmaller Text
Here's your eye-popping statistic of the day, courtesy Stephen Losey at Federal Times:


Does job performance play a factor in employee raises and step increases?

Unions defending the General Schedule say yes.

But the latest numbers say clearly no.

Only 737 out of more than 1.2 million GS employees — or one in every 1,698 — were denied a regularly scheduled step increase and accompanying raise in 2009 because of poor performance, according to data provided by the Office of Personnel Management at Federal Times' request.

That equates to a 0.06 percent denial rate, which is far lower than any estimates given of how many poor performers exist in the work force. OPM estimated in 1999 that poor performers make up approximately 3.7 percent of the federal work force. A 2000 survey by the Merit Systems Protection Board found that 14.3 percent of federal employees were judged by co-workers to be performing below reasonably expected levels.


Also bear in mind that the average federal pay and benefits are double the private sector and that federal pay has gone through the roof. During the first 18 months of the recession, the number of federal employees making six-figure salaries jumped from 14 to 19 percent. In 2005, the Defense Department had just nine civilian employees making more than $170,000. When Obama took office, the number had risen to 214. The number is now 994.

http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/out-12-million-federal-employees-only-737-denied-raises-poor-performance_555351.html
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Body-by-Guinness
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« Reply #5 on: March 31, 2011, 01:06:18 PM »

Spending for Tyranny by Richard W. Rahn
from Cato Recent Op-eds
To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical. — Thomas Jefferson

Serious people understand that the federal budget must be reduced, but there are groups that are using taxpayer dollars to lobby for more federal spending. If people disagree with a government spending priority — that is, if they think the government is spending too much or too little on a particular program, they have the basic right to advocate for more or less. What is corrupt is to use taxpayer dollars to lobby for more money for one's favorite program or self-interest.

If you have listened to National Public Radio (NPR) in recent weeks, you have probably heard the pleas for you to contact members of Congress and ask them to vote for taxpayer money for NPR. It has been recognized for decades that NPR has a left-wing agenda and much of its news programming is nothing more than an endless series of demands for more government spending or more regulation.

At NPR, cost-benefit analysis is an unspoken sin. Businesspeople and Republicans are normally treated as villains, and those in government and Democrats as self-sacrificing saints. The fact that government workers are much more highly paid than those in the private sector is not considered news anymore. NPR will claim that it is not using taxpayer dollars for lobbying, which may be illegal, but is using private donations for that purpose.

The simple fact of the matter is that money is fungible — it is put in and comes out of the same pot. In truth, NPR will not go away, unfortunately, if the direct taxpayer subsidy is stopped because it has a large endowment, a large contributor base, and it accepts ads — which are called sponsor information. Thomas Jefferson and the other American Founders would not have approved of this use of taxpayer dollars.

Taxpayer dollars are also used to fund international organizations, which, in turn, lobby the U.S. Congress for not only more money for themselves, but also for higher taxes on the American people. In recent years, one of the most notorious examples has been the little known Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), based in France. The OECD has argued that Americans need to pay more in taxes; claims that tax-rate competition among nations is harmful, ignoring the fact that competition forces governments to prioritize better and be less wasteful; insists that Americans and others should give up their basic right of financial privacy; and supports programs that are driving needed foreign investment out of the United States. It is unlikely that Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and the other Founders would have approved.

President Obama has just proposed adding 5,000 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents to the 100,000 we already have. As you ponder whether this is a good idea, think about the following: If a person pulled a gun on you and demanded your wallet, and then said: "I am going to use 50 percent of your money for good purposes, and I am going to waste and mismanage 30 percent, and the final 20 percent I am going to use for my own pleasure and to pay off my cronies who protect me," would you think the robber should be sent to jail or praised as a public servant? Feel free to alter the percentages in the above example based on your own impressions of how well the government spends your money, remembering that much of the stimulus money went to unions and political allies of Mr. Obama. And note that Jefferson also said, "The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."

Unless the advocates of ever-more government spending are exposed for the self dealers and/or socialists they are, the economy and our liberties are doomed. Much of the establishment media has taken a pass on exposing what is going on, because too many of them are in bed with the politicians in one way or another. Those in the Tea Parties and taxpayer-advocacy groups are largely dependent on the free-market policy organizations for facts and arguments in their courageous stands against the statists.

The American Revolution was largely financed by those merchants and farmers who were willing to make financial contributions, buy the bonds of the states, accept the questionable new paper currency issued by the Continental Congress and donate weapons, blankets and other supplies. Robert Morris was the financier who devised many of the ways to support Washington's army, including contributing large amounts of his own funds. He was aided by many others, notably the Polish-born Jew and financier, Haym Salomon. Without their support, Washington and the other better-known Founding Fathers could not have succeeded. Those who financed the American Revolution were the unsung heroes.

In these perilous times, there is a new group of unsung heroes who have been providing the financial support for the limited-government policy and advocacy organizations. The scholars, radio and TV commentators, and the pamphleteers who defend economic opportunity and individual liberty depend upon them. Those who foster tyranny depend on coerced funds; those who believe in and support liberty depend on what is voluntarily given.

Richard W. Rahn is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth.

http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=12807
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2011, 07:05:26 AM »

y STEPHEN MOORE
If you want to understand better why so many states—from New York to Wisconsin to California—are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, consider this depressing statistic: Today in America there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million). This is an almost exact reversal of the situation in 1960, when there were 15 million workers in manufacturing and 8.7 million collecting a paycheck from the government.

It gets worse. More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined. We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers. Nearly half of the $2.2 trillion cost of state and local governments is the $1 trillion-a-year tab for pay and benefits of state and local employees. Is it any wonder that so many states and cities cannot pay their bills?

Every state in America today except for two—Indiana and Wisconsin—has more government workers on the payroll than people manufacturing industrial goods. Consider California, which has the highest budget deficit in the history of the states. The not-so Golden State now has an incredible 2.4 million government employees—twice as many as people at work in manufacturing. New Jersey has just under two-and-a-half as many government employees as manufacturers. Florida's ratio is more than 3 to 1. So is New York's.

Even Michigan, at one time the auto capital of the world, and Pennsylvania, once the steel capital, have more government bureaucrats than people making things. The leaders in government hiring are Wyoming and New Mexico, which have hired more than six government workers for every manufacturing worker.

Now it is certainly true that many states have not typically been home to traditional manufacturing operations. Iowa and Nebraska are farm states, for example. But in those states, there are at least five times more government workers than farmers. West Virginia is the mining capital of the world, yet it has at least three times more government workers than miners. New York is the financial capital of the world—at least for now. That sector employs roughly 670,000 New Yorkers. That's less than half of the state's 1.48 million government employees.

View Full Image

ImageZoo/Corbis
 .Don't expect a reversal of this trend anytime soon. Surveys of college graduates are finding that more and more of our top minds want to work for the government. Why? Because in recent years only government agencies have been hiring, and because the offer of near lifetime security is highly valued in these times of economic turbulence. When 23-year-olds aren't willing to take career risks, we have a real problem on our hands. Sadly, we could end up with a generation of Americans who want to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The employment trends described here are explained in part by hugely beneficial productivity improvements in such traditional industries as farming, manufacturing, financial services and telecommunications. These produce far more output per worker than in the past. The typical farmer, for example, is today at least three times more productive than in 1950.

Where are the productivity gains in government? Consider a core function of state and local governments: schools. Over the period 1970-2005, school spending per pupil, adjusted for inflation, doubled, while standardized achievement test scores were flat. Over roughly that same time period, public-school employment doubled per student, according to a study by researchers at the University of Washington. That is what economists call negative productivity.

But education is an industry where we measure performance backwards: We gauge school performance not by outputs, but by inputs. If quality falls, we say we didn't pay teachers enough or we need smaller class sizes or newer schools. If education had undergone the same productivity revolution that manufacturing has, we would have half as many educators, smaller school budgets, and higher graduation rates and test scores.

The same is true of almost all other government services. Mass transit spends more and more every year and yet a much smaller share of Americans use trains and buses today than in past decades. One way that private companies spur productivity is by firing underperforming employees and rewarding excellence. In government employment, tenure for teachers and near lifetime employment for other civil servants shields workers from this basic system of reward and punishment. It is a system that breeds mediocrity, which is what we've gotten.

Most reasonable steps to restrain public-sector employment costs are smothered by the unions. Study after study has shown that states and cities could shave 20% to 40% off the cost of many services—fire fighting, public transportation, garbage collection, administrative functions, even prison operations—through competitive contracting to private providers. But unions have blocked many of those efforts. Public employees maintain that they are underpaid relative to equally qualified private-sector workers, yet they are deathly afraid of competitive bidding for government services.

President Obama says we have to retool our economy to "win the future." The only way to do that is to grow the economy that makes things, not the sector that takes things.

Mr. Moore is senior economics writer for The Wall Street Journal editorial page.
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G M
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« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2011, 07:17:48 AM »

http://hotair.com/archives/2011/03/31/excellent-bill-whittle-on-eating-the-rich/

#Invalid YouTube Link#
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Body-by-Guinness
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« Reply #8 on: April 12, 2011, 08:27:37 PM »

Congress Has Become the Least Dangerous Branch by Gene Healy
from Cato Recent Op-eds

In last week's budget standoff, the headlines had President Obama repeatedly "summoning" the speaker and the Senate majority leader to the White House. "Why," my colleague David Boaz asked, "doesn't the speaker 'summon' the president to what I think is the real seat of government?"

It's a good point: Whether or not you score the budget deal as a win for the GOP, the casual way the media describes the president's role shows how dangerously far we've drifted toward one-branch rule.

Congressmen of old "would have received as a personal affront" any message from the president calling on them to change their position, Massachusetts Sen. George Hoar wrote in his 1903 memoirs: "If they visited the White House, it was to give, not to receive advice." "In a republican government," the Federalist explains, "the legislative authority necessarily predominates," and is therefore most to be feared.

Today, not so much. Consider the controversial "policy riders" that almost sank the budget deal. The measure defunding Planned Parenthood got most of the coverage, overshadowing important provisions aimed at restricting the Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate greenhouse gases.

Seizing on the Supreme Court's 2007 ruling that the Clean Air Act's definition of "pollutant" was broad enough to encompass CO2 — a gas essential to life on Earth — the Obama administration has begun to "legislate" global warming policy in an end-run around Congress.

Whatever your views on climate change, you ought to find it unsettling that, here and elsewhere, most of the actual "law" in this country is crafted by unelected executive-branch bureaucrats.

But that's where we are. A few months back, the New York Times reported that some 230 health regulators had descended on Bethesda — paying double rent for office space so they could immediately begin drafting more than 300 rules implementing Obamacare. Thanks to "mega-bills passed by Congress," the Times explained, regulators are issuing "hundreds of sweeping financial and health care regulations that will ultimately affect most Americans."

As at home, so too abroad: having ceded its constitutional power, Congress sits on the sidelines and carps while the president wages war.

Two weeks ago — nine days after we started bombing Libya — President Obama got around to explaining why. His televised address ran more than 3,000 words, but "Constitution" never appears — and "Congress" occurs only once: a passing reference to "consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress."

The president's supposed to do more than "consult"; the real "decider" is Congress. Our Constitution grants the legislature sufficient power to make talk of "co-equal branches" a misnomer.

The constitutional scholar Charles Black once commented, "My classes think I am trying to be funny when I say that, by simple majorities," Congress could shrink the White House staff to one secretary, and that, with a two-thirds vote, "Congress could put the White House up at auction." (I sometimes find myself wishing they would.)

But Professor Black wasn't trying to be funny: it's in Congress' power to do that. And if Congress can sell the White House, surely it can defund an illegal war and rein in a runaway bureaucracy.

If they don't, it's because they like the current system. And why wouldn't they? It lets them take credit for passing high-minded, vaguely worded statutes, and take it again by railing against the bureaucracy when it imposes costs in the course of deciding what those statutes mean.

But it's our fault as well. In the shell game of modern American governance, we've let ourselves become easy marks. Unless and until voters wise up and demand accountability, Congress will continue to take our money and shirk its duty.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of The Cult of the Presidency.

http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=13003
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bigdog
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« Reply #9 on: April 13, 2011, 06:46:40 AM »

Scholars, and presidents, often point to the vesting clauses in Articles I and II as a source of the rise of presidential powers viz. those of Congress.  While it is true that the Constitution grants Congress many a power, the vesting clause in Article I also limits the powers of Congress to those enumerated in the document.  The vesting clause in Article II places no such limit on the president. 
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #10 on: April 13, 2011, 08:21:22 AM »

I very much agree with the point made about Congress failing to exert its powers.  Perhaps I am a simpleton, but I do not get why the House Republicans simply do not pass the budget they want and refuse to pass anything else.  Spending bills must originate in the House, yes?  Wouldn't this leave Obama and the Dems in the position of having to "shut down" the govt. or shut up?

As usual BD raises an interesting point about Article II.  Would you flesh this out for us a bit please BD?
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bigdog
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« Reply #11 on: April 13, 2011, 08:36:33 AM »

Article I vesting clause: "All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives." (my emphasis)

Article II vesting clause: "The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America." 

Note the key difference.  Article I expressly limits the legislative powers of Congress to those granted in the Constitution.  There is no such limit in the Article II vesting clause.  In other words, many presidents and presidential scholars have argued that the executive powers of a country, by virtue of being a sovereign state, are more extensive than those powers expressed in the Constitution.  It is also worth noting that the passage in Article II was altered between prior and final drafts.  I believe  Gouverneur Morris was primarily responsible for the shift. 

Does that clarify enough Guro? 
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DougMacG
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« Reply #12 on: April 13, 2011, 10:01:47 AM »

Crafty, No doubt BD is correct, but this episode was about politics IMO.  The Senate and the Executive were openly admitting (taunting) that the House had the power to shut the government down.  I agree with your take that it would be the bigger spenders not accepting the lower levels of funding that would be the ones shutting the government down, but perceptions are what count politically.   

There is valid conservative outrage that these cuts are 1% of a year budget (2% of the remaining half year).  But shutting down over a margin of another 1% is still a capital punishment equivalent for table scraps / rounding errors.  In other words, this wasn't the budget war, these are warm up skirmishes.  If republicans were ready and if the people were ready, we could could shut it down over the principle of spending only what we are taking in - a trillion dollar immediate cut.  What principle is involved holding at 3.79 instead of 3.81 when the right number is something like 2.6, all in trillions.   In reality you phase things out over time and need to bring the electorate with you.  This is a multi-election war and we don't even have a spokesman.

Better timing is at the debt limit vote, but it won't happen there either.  Obama and Hoyer are scrambling to apologize for past irresponsible votes where they refused to raise it previously because of not liking the President and for political gain, when in fact they wanted to run deficits 10 times as large and now need support for that.

All parties seem scared to death at the thought of being perceived as irresponsible, as they continue to govern in the most irresponsible way imaginable.

Tonight the President will try to shift the message back to tax the rich.  But if you taxed the rich at the 100% rate you would not begin to close this gap, nor would you grow the economy or put people back to work.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #13 on: April 13, 2011, 10:16:27 AM »

BD:

So to what sources do we look to define the "Executive Power"?
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bigdog
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« Reply #14 on: April 13, 2011, 11:52:33 AM »

BD:

So to what sources do we look to define the "Executive Power"?

Locke (Two Treatises) and Blackstone (Commentaries on the Laws of England).  An example: the executive must have "the power to act according to discretion, for the publick good, without the prescription of the Law, and sometimes even against it." (Blackstone)

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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #15 on: April 13, 2011, 12:21:21 PM »

Well, that sounds rather scary  shocked
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bigdog
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« Reply #16 on: April 13, 2011, 04:45:14 PM »

Well, that sounds rather scary  shocked

I know!
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G M
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« Reply #17 on: April 13, 2011, 04:50:08 PM »

Maybe Obama WAS a constitutional scholar after all?
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Body-by-Guinness
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« Reply #18 on: November 03, 2011, 12:56:15 PM »

http://reason.com/blog/2011/10/26/nasa-freaks-out-little-old-lad
Reason Magazine

NASA Freaks Out Little Old Lady, Claims Ownership of Every Single Speck of Moon Dust

Katherine Mangu-Ward | October 26, 2011

Speaking of making money on the moon: You can't. Ever. So don't even think about it, granny.

The target [of a sting by NASA to recover a tiny speck of moon dust], Joann Davis, a grandmother who says she was trying to raise money for her sick son, asserts the lunar material was rightfully hers, having been given to her space-engineer husband by Neil Armstrong in the 1970s....

When officers in flak vests took a hold of her, the 4-foot-11 woman said she was so scared she lost control of her bladder and was taken outside to a parking lot, where she was questioned and detained for about two hours.


NASA's official position is that it owns every last lunar artifact, and that even samples that are given away—as hundreds have been my NASA itself—technically remain government property. I get it—since we can't manage to get our sorry butts back to Old Luna, there's a limited supply of the grey stuff. But this story is basically the nerd equivalent of a full-scale SWAT raid to turn up one dried up joint.

And how did the crack investigators at NASA find this errant bit o' moon?:

The case was triggered by Davis herself....She emailed a NASA contractor May 10 trying to find a buyer for the rock, as well as a nickel-sized piece of the heat shield that protected the Apollo 11 space capsule as it returned to earth from the first successful manned mission to the moon in 1969.

"I've been searching the internet for months attempting to find a buyer," Davis wrote. "If you have any thoughts as to how I can proceed with the sale of these two items, please call."


They did call, and made a false offer of $1.7 million for the moon shards, only to snag her (and it) out of a booth in a California family restaurant. No changes have been filed, but the NASA investigators kept the moon bit.
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ccp
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« Reply #19 on: November 03, 2011, 07:44:39 PM »

I don't undertand the need for this.  What requires such a rapid response that we need the tyrant in the Oval Office to be able to take over all media at once?  I mean we already have rapid fire media in place.   There is something very dictatorial about this:

****Anxiety over upcoming test of US emergency system
Nov 3 03:46 PM US/Eastern

 A traffic light illuminates green in front of the US Capitol building in Wa...

It's only a test, but nerves are somewhat frayed over the first nationwide exercise of the system designed to alert Americans of national emergencies.
The test occurs at 1900 GMT Wednesday, November 9, and may last over three minutes -- longer than the typical 30 seconds or one minute for most broadcast test messages.

According to a message being circulated by local school and government officials, there is "great concern in local police and emergency management circles about undue public anxiety over this test."

"The test message on TV might not indicate that it is just a test," according to one email being circulated by a Washington area school district.

"Fear is that the lack of an explanation message might create panic. Please share this information with your family and friends so they are aware of the test."

The test is being conducted jointly by the US Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and the National Weather Service.

"We're asking everyone to join us by spreading the word to your neighbors, co-workers, friends and family... please remember: don't stress; it's only a test," FEMA said in a blog post.

The test is part of the Emergency Alert System designed to transmit, via TV and radio, emergency alerts and warnings regarding weather threats, child abductions and other types of emergencies, according to officials.

While state and local tests already take place frequently, a simultaneous, nationwide test of the national EAS "emergency action notification" code has never occurred.****

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Body-by-Guinness
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« Reply #20 on: November 08, 2011, 09:20:52 AM »

Farm-to-Fork Dinner Fiasco
By Laura Bledsoe | October 24, 2011

When an over-zealous regulator shows up at a farm dinner demanding that food be destroyed as hungry guests await, who do you call? Here's Laura's account written as a letter to her guests who had come to Quail Hollow Farm expecting a meal of foods harvested from local small family farms.

This incident shows the value of the 24/7 legal hotline for farmers like Laura who need help...even on a Friday night!  A member benefit like the hotline is available thanks to the financial support of the many FTCLDF members and donors.

Dearest Guests, (You have all become dear to us!)

What an evening we had this last Friday night!  It had all the makings of a really great novel: drama, suspense, anticipation, crisis, heroic efforts, villains and victors, resolution and a happy ending.

The evening was everything I had dreamed and hoped it would be. The weather was perfect, the farm was filled with friends and guests roaming around talking about organic, sustainable farming practices. Our young interns were teaching and sharing their passion for farming and their role in it.  (A high hope for our future!)  The pig didn’t get loose. 

Our guests were excited to spend an evening together. The food was prepared exquisitely.  The long dinner table, under the direction of dear friends, was absolutely stunningly beautiful. The music was superb. The stars were bright and life was really good. 

And then, …

for a few moments, it felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath us and my wonderful world came crashing down.  As guests were mingling, finishing tours of the farm, and while the first course of the meal was being prepared and ready to be sent out, a Southern Nevada Health District employee came for an inspection.

Because this was a gathering of people invited to our farm for dinner, I had no idea that the Health Department would become involved.  I received a phone call from them two days before the event informing me that because this was a “public event” (I would like to know what is the definition of “public” and “private”) we would be required to apply for a “special use permit”.

If we did not do so immediately, we would be charged a ridiculous fine.

Stunned, we immediately complied. 

We were in the middle of our harvest day for our CSA shares, a very busy time for us, but Monte immediately left to comply with the demand and filled out the required paper work and paid for the fee.  (Did I mention that we live in Overton, nowhere near a Health Department office?)  Paper work now in order, he was informed that we would not actually be given the permit until an inspector came to check it all out. 

She came literally while our guests were arriving!

In order to overcome any trouble with the Health Department of cooking on the premises, most of the food was prepared in a certified kitchen in Las Vegas; and to further remove any doubt, we rented a certified kitchen trailer to be here on the farm for the preparation of the meals.  The inspector, Mary Oaks, clearly not the one in charge of the inspection as she was constantly on the phone with her superior Susan somebody who was calling all the shots from who knows where.

Susan deemed our food unfit for consumption and demanded that we call off the event because: 

1. Some of the prepared food packages did not have labels on them.  (The code actually allows for this if it is to be consumed within 72 hours.) 

2.  Some of the meat was not USDA certified.  (Did I mention that this was a farm to fork meal?)

3.  Some of the food that was prepared in advance was not up to temperature at the time of inspection. (It was being prepared to be brought to proper temperature for serving when the inspection occurred.)

4.  Even the vegetables prepared in advance had to be thrown out because they were cut and were then considered a “bio-hazard”.

5.  We did not have receipts for our food.  (Reminder!  This food came from farms not from the supermarket!  I have talked with several chefs who have said that in all their years cooking they have never been asked for receipts.)

At this time Monte, trying to reason with Susan to find a possible solution for the problem, suggested turning this event from a “public” event to a “private” event by allowing the guests to become part of our farm club, thus eliminating any jurisdiction or responsibility on their part.  This idea infuriated Susan and threatened that if we did not comply the police would be called and personally escort our guests off the property.  This is not the vision of the evening we had in mind!  So regretfully, again we complied.

The only way to keep our guests on the property was to destroy the food.

I can’t tell you how sick to my stomach I was watching that first dish of Mint Lamb Meatballs hit the bottom of the unsanitized trash can.

Here we were with guests who had paid in advance and had come from long distances away anticipating a wonderful dining experience, waiting for dinner while we were behind the kitchen curtain throwing it away!  I know of the hours and labor that went into the preparation of that food.

We asked the inspector if we could save the food for a private family event that we were having the next day.  (A personal family choice to use our own food.)  We were denied and she was insulted that we would even consider endangering our families health.  I assured her that I had complete faith and trust in Giovanni our chef and the food that was prepared, (obviously, or I wouldn’t be wanting to serve it to our guests).

I then asked if we couldn’t feed the food to our “public guests” or even to our private family, then at least let us feed it to our pigs.  (I think it should be a criminal action to waste any resource of the land. Being dedicated to our organic farm, we are forever looking for good inputs into our compost and soil and good food that can be fed to our animals. The animals and compost pile always get our left over garden surplus and food.  We truly are trying to be as sustainable as possible.)

Again, a call to Susan and another negative response.

Okay, so let me get this right.

So the food that was raised here on our farm and selected and gathered from familiar local sources, cooked and prepared with skill and love was even unfit to feed to my pigs!?! 

Who gave them the right to tell me what I feed my animals?

Not only were we denied the use of the food for any purpose, to ensure that it truly was unfit for feed of any kind we were again threatened with police action if we did not only throw the food in the trash, but then to add insult to injury, we were ordered to pour bleach on it.   

Now the food is also unfit for compost as I would be negligent to allow any little critters to nibble on it while it was composting and ingest that bleach resulting in a horrible death.  Literally hundreds of pounds of food was good for nothing but adding to our ever increasing land fill!

At some point in all of this turmoil Monte reminded me that I had the emergency phone number for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) on our refrigerator.  I put it there never really believing that I would ever have to use it.   We became members of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund several years ago as a protection for us, but mostly to add support to other farmers battling against the oppressive legal actions taken against the small farmers trying to produce good wholesome food without government intrusion.

The local, sustainable food battle is being waged all across America!  May I mention that not one battle has been brought on because of any illness to the patrons of these farms!  The battles are started by government officials swooping down on farms and farmers like SWAT teams confiscating not only the wholesome food items produced but even their farm equipment!  Some of them actually wearing HAZMAT suits as if they were walking into a nuclear meltdown!  I have personally listened to some of their heart wrenching stories and have continued to follow them through the FTCLDF’s updates.

Well, I made the call, told my story and within a short period of time received a phone call back from the FTCLDF’s General Counsel, Gary Cox.   When told the story, he simply suggested that we apply our fundamental constitutional right to be protected against “unlawful search and seizure.”  I simply had to ask Mary two questions.  “Do you have a search warrant?”  “Do you have an arrest warrant?”

With the answers being “No”, I politely and very simply asked her to leave our property.  As simple as that!  She had no alternative, no higher power, no choice whatsoever but to now comply with my desire. She left in a huff making a scene shouting that she was calling the police. She left no paperwork, no Cease and Desist order, no record of any kind that implicated us for one thing, (we had complied to all their orders) only empty threats and a couple of trash cans full of defiled food.  I will get back to “the inspector” and her threats shortly.  Let’s get to where it really gets good.

While I am on the verge of a literal breakdown, Monte and Gio get creative. All right, we have just thrown all of this food away, we can’t do this, we can’t do that, what CAN we do?  Well, we have a vegetable farm and we do have fresh vegetables. (By the way, we were denied even using our fresh vegetables until I informed our inspector that I do have a Producers Certificate from the Nevada Department of Agriculture allowing us to sell our vegetables and other farm products at the Farmers Market.  Much of our produce has gone to some of the very finest restaurants in Las Vegas and St. George.)

The wind taken out of the inspector's sails, Gio and his crew got cookin’. It just so happened that we had a cooled trailer full of vegetables ready to be taken to market the following day. Monte hooked on to the trailer and backed it up right next to the kitchen. Our interns who were there to greet and serve now got to work with lamp oil and began harvesting anew. Knives were chopping, pots of pasta and rice from our food storage were steaming, our bonfire was now turned into a grill and literal miracles were happening before our eyes!

In the meantime, Monte and I had to break the news to our guests. Rather than go into the details here, you can see the video footage on Mark Bowers and Kiki Kalor’s (our friends and guests) website at: http://www.reallyvegasphoto.com/Events/CSA-Farm-Government-Inspection/19707296_v2zFML#1546717636_dJJDZjw

We explained the situation, offered anyone interested a full refund, and told them that if they chose to stay their dinner was now literally being prepared fresh, as just now being harvested.  The reaction of our guests was the most sobering and inspirational experience of the evening.

In an instant we were bonded together.

They were, of course, out-raged at the lack of choice they were given in their meal.

Out-raged at the arrogance of coming to a farm dinner and being required to use only USDA (government inspected) meats.

Outraged at the heavy handedness of the Health Department into their lives. 

Then there was the most tremendous outpouring of love and support.

One of our guests, Marty Keach, informed us that he was an attorney and as appalled as everyone else offered his support and counsel if need be, even if it be to the Supreme Court.  He was a great comfort in a tense time.

With their approval, Giovanni and crew got cooking and the evening then truly began. The atmosphere turned from tense and angry to loving and supportive. As soon as I heard my brother Steve sit down and begin strumming his guitar, I knew something special was happening.  Paid guests volunteered their services. Chef Shawn Wallace, a guest, joined Gio and his team his knife flying through the eggplant and squash.  Wendy and Thierry Pressyler and so many that I am not even aware of, were helping to grill and transport dishes.  Jason and Chrissy Doolen offered to run quick errands.  Jeanne Frost, a server for the Wynn hotel, didn’t take a seat and began serving her fellow guests.

Before long we were seated at the beautiful table and the most incredible  dishes began coming forth.  It was literally “loaves and fishes” appearing before our very eyes!  We broke bread together, we laughed, we talked, we shared stories, we came together in the most marvelous way.

Now this is what I had dreamed, only more marvelous than I could have ever imagined!  The sky being bright with glittering stars, we had the telescopes out and invited any guests who desired to look into our starry heaven.  While we were looking into the heavens, heaven was looking down upon us!  I can’t tell you the number of times I have felt the hand of providence helping us in the work of this farm.

As hard and demanding as this work is, I KNOW that this is what we are meant to do.

I KNOW that it is imperative that we stand up for our food choices.

I KNOW that local, organic, sustainable food produced by ourselves or by small family, local farms is indispensible to the health and well-being of our families and our communities now and in the future! If this work were not so vitally important, the “evil forces” would not be working so hard to pull it down.

We were victorious, we will be victorious, we must be!   Our grandchildren’s future is at stake!

Back to the inspector. She did call the police. You must remember that we live in a small town. We know these officers. They responded to the call dutifully but were desperately trying to figure out why they had been called. Never in all of their experience had they ever received a call like this.

Mary, the inspector, demanded that they give us a citation. The officer in charge said that she was to give us the citation, she responded that no, they were to give us the citation, which they then asked her for what violation. Even with the help of her superior on the phone she could not give them a reason. They asked her to leave which she did. The police were very kind and apologetic for the intrusion. All of this was done without fanfare and out of sight of our guests. The police officers are commended for their professionalism!

Now that we have come to the last chapter of our novel, I realize that it ends with a cliff-hanger. As happy as the ending was, it isn’t “happily ever after” yet.  This will remain to be seen in the ensuing days, weeks and even years ahead.

Tom Collins, our County Commissioner, furious by the events that took place, having formerly been a board member for the Southern Nevada Health District is putting together a meeting with himself, the current board members and ourselves to make sense of all this mess.

As so many of you have related verbally and through emails your desire to help and be involved, we will keep you informed as events take place.  I feel that we have been compelled to truly become active participants in the ongoing battle over our food choices.  This is just one small incident that brings to our awareness how fragile our freedoms are.  We are now ready to join the fight!

We would encourage all of you who can to contribute and to become a member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.  They are not only fighting for the farmers, they are fighting for the consumers to have the right to choose.  You can find them at farmtoconsumer.org

As I close, I am reminded of the passage written so forcefully by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence:   
“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”

The same battle continues.   I pray the result of the battle will be the same, that we have been “endowed by our Creator with … life and liberty”.

We love you all, and thank you with all our souls for your continued love and support!  We will stay in touch.
With warmest wishes for you and your families,
Monte and Laura Bledsoe
Written from Quail Hollow Farm
October 24, 2011
quailhollowfarmcsa.com
Email Laura at quailhollowfarm@mvdsl.com

http://farmtoconsumer.org/quail-hollow-farm-dinner.htm
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G M
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« Reply #21 on: November 08, 2011, 09:28:16 AM »

I'm not sure how this is a 4th amendment issue, but I'd like to highlight this point below:

Back to the inspector. She did call the police. You must remember that we live in a small town. We know these officers. They responded to the call dutifully but were desperately trying to figure out why they had been called. Never in all of their experience had they ever received a call like this.

Mary, the inspector, demanded that they give us a citation. The officer in charge said that she was to give us the citation, she responded that no, they were to give us the citation, which they then asked her for what violation. Even with the help of her superior on the phone she could not give them a reason. They asked her to leave which she did. The police were very kind and apologetic for the intrusion. All of this was done without fanfare and out of sight of our guests. The police officers are commended for their professionalism!

Depressing that this was Nevada. I'd expect this in the PRK.
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