web analytics

Tag Archive | "government"

Let the sun shine in


We may be enjoying some much-need outdoor sunshine this week, but we are also celebrating sunshine of another kind. March 16-22 is being celebrated as “Sunshine Week” across the nation. Sunshine week is a week dedicated to shining a light on the importance of freedom of information, transparency and openness in government.

In this week’s paper, stories marked with a sunshine week emblem show that they were made possible through the Freedom of Information Act or Open Meetings Act. We hope this will bring awareness to how much we depend on an open, honest government.

It is important that citizens participate in our local government meetings and exercise their right to know. As responsible citizens working to keep our community strong, healthy and vibrant, we need to keep the focus on having an open government.

For more information on the FOIA and OMA acts visit the Open Government Guide at www.rcfp.org/open-government-guide. You can scroll down the page, and see the state guide for Michigan.


Posted in NewsComments Off on Let the sun shine in

Trust … but definitely verify

V-Lee-HamiltonBy Lee H. Hamilton


Of all the numbers thrown at us over the course of last year, one stands out for me. I fervently hope we can avoid repeating it this year. That number is 12. It’s the percentage of Americans in a December Quinnipiac poll who said they trust the government in Washington to do what is right most or all of the time. It’s a depressingly small number, especially compared to the 41 percent who say they “hardly ever” trust the government. On top of that, a few months ago an AP poll found that fewer than a third of Americans trust one another. The poll’s message is clear: our society is in the midst of a crisis in trust.

Trust is essential to our political system and our way of life. The belief that people and institutions will do what they say they will do is the coin of the realm in our society. It is what allows people to work together—in their daily interactions with others and in their communities, legislatures and Congress. Negotiation, compromise, collegiality, and the mechanisms our complex and diverse society depends upon are impossible without trust.

You could argue that we see all around us the results of our trust deficit. Government dysfunction, an economy performing below its potential, public officials’ scandals and misdeeds, trusted institutions’ willingness to skirt the law and standards of good conduct, our social safety net under attack because people mistrust recipients—all of these speak to a society struggling as trust weakens.

Yet here’s the question. Do the polls match your experience? In my case, they do not. Trust is still a big part of my dealings with institutions and individuals, most of whom are good people trying to live a decent life and to be helpful to others. Trust may have weakened, but most of us do not see or experience a corrupt America. A sense of community remains crucially important to make this country safe and secure for ourselves and our children. Events in recent years have given us plenty of reason to be distrustful. Clearly, healthy skepticism is warranted in the wake of the NSA revelations and other evidence of government and corporate misbehavior. In the end, however, “trust but verify” is still the golden standard. Our ability to function and move forward as a society rests on trust. Think about it.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


Posted in Lee Hamilton ColumnComments (1)

How to fix distrust in government

By Lee H. Hamilton

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll had bad news for Congress, whose support is down to single digits. But it had even worse news for the Republic. Americans’ distrust of government, the pollsters found, is “at its highest level ever.”
When so many Americans believe that their representatives in Washington do not have their best interests in mind, something is desperately off-kilter. It means that Americans feel betrayed by how the political class operates.
So the question becomes what can be done to restore the people’s trust in government. May I suggest it involves more than changing policies. It means paying attention to the values that people would like to see embodied in government.
To start, they want fairness from Washington. I’ve always been impressed by the importance Americans place on fairness; they strive to be fair to those around them, and they expect government to do the same.
They also want government to be open. This is not a blanket pronouncement — where national security and defense are concerned, or where congressional negotiators need space to find common ground without being forced to posture for the cameras, there is a place for secrecy. But transparency ought to be the rule.
There is also a deep thirst for accountability in Washington. So many different people have their hands on promoting or blocking a given initiative, it can seem as though the entire political system is designed to shrug off responsibility. It is hard to respect institutions whose leaders refuse a forthright accounting of, or deny responsibility for, their failures.
Americans do not expect miracles or understate the difficulties of governing. They do not expect a single person to right the ship of state. Quite the contrary. They want a collective effort, a sense that people in government are working together to resolve their differences. Americans tolerate disagreement, but not to the point of gridlock — in the end they prefer cooperation, not confrontation; remedies, not filibusters and scorched-earth politicking.
Finally, they want honesty. Americans really do want to know the scope of the problems they confront and to make up their own minds about them. They resent politicians who paper over the complexity of the problems or toss off inadequate solutions.
Rebuilding trust in American government will require more than changes in rules or policy. It will rest on the manner in which our elected officials conduct the business of government, and their willingness to embrace fairness, openness, accountability, cooperation, competence and honesty.
Lack of trust in government is a far more serious problem than most politicians believe, one that cannot be resolved easily. The solution can only come from a patient, long-term effort to return to our fundamental values and instincts.
Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Posted in Voices and ViewsComments Off on How to fix distrust in government

Main Street

Roger on Main StreetDown with government?
No taxes, no government. This notion has taken hold in some circles. In my opinion, the idea has a few flaws.
If nobody in town had to pay taxes we’d have to do without water, sewer and roads. Not paying taxes would leave your budget with more money for steak and designer jeans, but, whoa – the street is off-limits for you, buddy, unless you pay a hefty toll fee to the private owner. If your house catches fire, better have your credit card handy because there would be a service call charge, an hourly charge for each fireman, mileage fees, water charges, and hose usage. That’s plan A. Your fire is out. But if you want the firemen to save people or pets from the building, you have to buy plan B from the owner of the fire department. (No taxes, though.)
Check the city budget. Try online for a summary of where the money goes. It’s clear to me that we need government. It’s the most cost-efficient way to get the things we need. Why government and not private providers? Because government doesn’t have to make a profit.
Taxes save us money. You read it here.
Be prepared
Two elderly women met for the first time since graduating from high school.  One said, “You were always so organized in school. Did you manage to live that way all your life?”
“Yes,” said her friend. “My first marriage was to a millionaire; my second marriage was to an actor; my third was to a preacher; and now I’m married to an undertaker.”
“I don’t get it,” said the other. “What do those marriages have to do with a well-planned life?”
“One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go!”
Mom joke, No. 1
My mother and I were walking down the street when a man with a clipboard stopped us. “I’m taking a survey,” he said. “Do you think there is too much sex in movies?”
“I’m not sure,” replied my mother. “I’m usually too wrapped up in the film to notice what the rest of the audience is doing.”
Mom joke, No. 2
A young man finds his dream girl and asks her to marry him. He tells his mother he wants her to meet his fiancée. Wanting to make a bit of a game out of it, he says he’ll bring the girl over with two others and see if his mother can guess which is his choice. His mother agrees to the game.
That night, he shows up with three beautiful young ladies. They all sit down on the couch, and everyone has a wonderful evening talking and getting to know each other.
After the three have departed, the young man says, “Okay, Mom, which one was the girl I want to marry?”
Without any hesitation, his mother replies, “The one in the middle.”
The young man is astounded. “How in the world did you figure it out?”
“Easy,” she says. “I don’t like her.”

Posted in Roger on Main St.Comments Off on Main Street

This is no way to run a government

By Lee H. Hamilton

In the days following the budget deal to stave off a government shutdown, the news was filled with reports on what the measure actually contained. Stories focused on the bits of budgetary hocus-pocus that got the White House and lawmakers to $38 billion in cuts, what was actually in those cuts, and the stray bits of policy-making that had nothing to do with reducing the deficit. But the news seemed to miss the most important point: the whole process got things exactly backward.
The way Congress used to work, budgets were crafted by a series of committees holding public hearings and debating separate appropriation bills. There was the occasional last-minute surprise, of course, but for the most part the process was organized and transparent.  Our elected representatives knew what was coming and had the opportunity to shape it, and the American people knew whom to hold accountable for what.
This budget deal, on the other hand, was put together behind closed doors by a handful of people striving to meet a doomsday deadline, handed off to unelected staff and a few legislators to work out the details, and then presented to the bulk of Congress for a take-it-or-leave-it vote. In some instances, no one has admitted responsibility for last-minute maneuvers that changed established policy; they emerged from the black box of negotiations as if untouched by human hands. Call me old-fashioned, but I fail to see either the “representative” or the “democracy” parts of our representative democracy at work here.
Yet the concerns expressed by many members of Congress in the lead-up to their vote on the agreement had nothing to do with how they’d been shunted to the sidelines. Rather, they complained about what they’d learned was in the measure—especially among conservatives, the revelation that the deal did not cut spending as deeply as had been advertised. Meanwhile, congressional leaders, according to The New York Times, were “rueful” that a final vote had to be delayed an extra day, “giving opposition an extra day to build.” In other words, leaders didn’t want legislators to find out what was in the bill because this would worsen its chances of passage.
What’s especially worrisome is that Congress seems to have gotten addicted to this seat-of-the-pants style of legislating. The next issue on its plate is the looming deadline to raise the debt ceiling, and it’s a good bet that once again we’ll be treated to the spectacle of last-minute negotiations, recalcitrant caucuses trying to hold the other side’s feet to the fire, and a dismaying sense of confusion in Washington. The ability of the government to function and its financial credibility both at home and overseas grows more tenuous with every passing day.  And only when it’s all over will we find out what actually took place.
This is no way to run a country, let alone a democracy. Comedian Jay Leno put it best: “A lot of people wonder what a government shutdown would be like,” he said. “I think a lot more people wonder what a government running properly would be like.”
Why is last-minute, dead-of-night negotiating among a few leaders so bad? For two major reasons. The first is its effect on government. As a shutdown loomed, public and private managers dependent on government funding found it impossible to plan ahead; agencies were forced to halt projects in midstream because the money they needed to continue hadn’t arrived on time; thousands of federal workers and contractors had no idea whether their programs would be shutting down; and confusion over which employees and which programs were essential paralyzed Washington and federal offices around the country.
Even more pernicious, the habit of cramming the federal budget—and other major legislation—into last-minute deals concentrates far too much power in the hands of a few leaders and staff members, effectively shutting most of the people who represent you and me out of the process. It also presents unparalleled opportunities for lobbyists pushing hard for narrow special-interest provisions to thrive in the confusion and shadows. It’s safe to say that some of them had more say in the recent budget deal than most members of Congress.
There is an answer to all this, and it’s a return to the procedure for crafting budgets that Congress developed over many decades of experience — committee hearings on individual spending bills, floor action allowing for an orderly amendment process, open conference committees, and then final votes in which every member knows precisely what he or she is voting on. That Congress has allowed itself to move so far from that time-honored process raises deeply disturbing questions about this government’s ability to govern.
Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Posted in Voices and ViewsComments Off on This is no way to run a government