New Commute to Work

It can surprise us when our boss shows signs of environmental concern. Sure, we expect that from our friends and family, but not necessarily the boss. It actually happened to me. My employer carries about energy consumption and dwindling resources so he has created incentives for employees to bike to work. I was nonplussed that these incentives included a stipend to purchase a road bike. What a super fabulous idea. I support the new commute to work. I know we will all benefit by doing our part for the environment.

I chose a quality road bike for under $500 from this web site http://www.onroadandmountain.com/best-road-bikes-budget/ with excellent features so I would not have any trouble with it. I wanted reliability, durability, performance, and versatility. The only thing I have left out here is looks. Why not include good design and superior appearance. Then you have it all. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to find all these benefits if you search the Web. In fact, there are so many to choose from that you can get a bit stuck. This was the first time I had been given this opportunity, especially at my place of employment. We were all quick to make our purchases and shortly after we formed a biking club. We had a list of safety rules for everyone to follow:

Look and listen—turn your head perpetually while on the road.

Show courtesy to other riders and do not attempt to pass speeding cars that are trying to avoid you.

Don’t be an easy target. Don‘t anger drivers who resent bikes in their lane.

Wear bright colors for visibility and white at night.

Use a light on the bicycle at night.

Always wear a helmet when on your bike: no exceptions.

Tie down or carefully stow anything you are toting on the bike so it doesn’t fall into the street.

We had regular meeting to review our rules and to make sure that everyone has complied with the helmet requirement. People get lazy and need a prod now and then. For fun, the biking club plans scenic routes on the weekend. The photographers among us take cameras and post them on Instagram. This has been a successful move in getting new members to the club. Our biking experience is much more than commuting to work. Bikes can be a way of life. Many of us bike to do errands, go on appointments, and visit friends. If you added up the gas savings, you would find it to be a rather hefty number. Our boss has certainly started something. We all do more than just recycling now to play our part in the eco movement.

Hybrid cars are also a good alternative if you want to focus on fuel consumption, but a bike is cheaper and is also just plain fun. Most of us didn’t get enough of this great pastime as kids. Now as adults we can bike to our heart’s content and do it with others. I can’t think of anything more worthwhile.

Purchasing Power

It seems the government goes one of two ways on things: either they pay rock bottom prices or they are paying millions of dollars to fund a research study on research studies. I can’t really speak to federal research grants other than to say that I’m sure most of them are for valid reasons, and I guess proving what you already know counts in that regard. There may be a few that make you scratch your head but just think about the all other grant applicants that lost out to them, because you know there had to be worse ideas.

On the other hand, people tend to think something nefarious goes on when the government gets a good deal on consumer goods. However, it is not the case. You actually get very similar discounts when you buy things at warehouse club stores or when you get a group rate on something. Do you think that the government buys one or two of something? Of course not, just like you don’t go to a warehouse club to buy a roll of paper towels. It’s the same concept: Bulk purchases. And even if they don’t buy many at a time, the knowledge that the government might come back and purchase even more would give a company enough incentive to give them a nice discount. Don’t forget, too, that the government is in the business of buying nearly everything, from vehicles to food, furniture, and office supplies.

So if the government is going to buy something like an oil filled heater, they’re going to buy a LOT of them. Of course, this means they are going to get a fantastic bulk discount from a company who is hoping that the deal they are giving will procure even more lucrative business in the future. And you can bet they’re going to get a great deal on the oil to run the heaters, too. Again, it isn’t because of some conspiracy. It is way more likely because they are repeat consumers who buy a lot of oil. Think about it from the point of view of the business owner: if the government says to you they want to buy aa huge amount of oil for a certain price and you have the stock, what would you say? If it is close to the market value or what you would typically charge, you would have to be foolish not to agree. And even if they offer a price that is less than you’d get selling it off piecemeal, think about how long it would take. Take into consideration how much product you could move in a much shorter amount of time and see if that persuades you. It gets harder and harder to resist, doesn’t it? Or if the heaters can run on vegetable oil, then they might be able to use the waste from their own galleys, kitchens, and mess halls. That would be quite eco-friendly, wouldn’t it?

Yes, I would imagine that sometimes the government buys things that are wasteful. In such a large organization with so many people having purchasing power, it is absolutely bound to happen. However, the lesson here is that the government uses their bulk purchasing power to get deals all the time. You should look into something similar for yourself!

An Easily Avoided Tragedy

Legionnaires’ disease is in the headlines from time to time, especially when deaths are involved. Because it was something new and scary, it seemed to capture attention. It is a mysterious condition that frightens the heck out of organizers of communal venues. Outbreaks seem to recur and cause a stir with public health officials. It is their purview to take action to be sure. One particular incident was in a veteran’s hospital and it brought up serious concerns. Is it inevitable that it will rear its ugly head or is it an easily avoided tragedy?

The disease is called Legionella pneumophila and it is actually a type of bacterium. The name was given after a case in Philadelphia at the American Legion convention in 1976. While we may not remember this day, the name has stuck. Thus, it is a new type of traditional pneumonia that affects the lungs. It seems to occur where water is stored or employed such as hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, decorative fountains, hot tubs, and air-conditioning units. The latter has been given the most attention as a common source and cause of the disease, but there are many.

Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious nor spread from one human to another. Exposure to any of the sources above is also not a guarantee that you will be afflicted, but it can happen. The bacteria that has the impact may or may not affect your health. If and when it does, however, it can be moderate to severe. Experts say that a preventative such as a sophisticated dehumidifier might be able to deal with the moisture in water systems that is the culprit.

Anything you can do to avoid public tragedy is most welcome and action can ensue from the political arena. Health officials are the first line of defense in avoiding multiple deaths and incidences of Legionnaire’s disease. Where there is concern, there should be a government program put in place to address it. It has happened often enough to linger on as an issue and a problem. Subsidies for convention centers, for example, can come from local government to cover the cost of humidifier purchase and installation. It can pay for research as to needs and solutions.

Public service announcements are also a good way to disseminate information from government agencies. For example, it is vital to know who is at risk for the disease. People 65 and older, smokers, and those with emphysema or other chronic lung diseases must completely avoid exposure. Anyone with a weak immune system must beware. If a person believes they have encountered the bacterium, they must see a physician for a chest x-ray and physical examination. Any pneumonia symptoms will be assessed and if Legionnaire’s is the expect diagnosis, a sputum sample or lung biopsy may follow. Antibiotics seem to work well for most of the afflicted, although it may well be in a hospital setting. Without treatment, lung failure and death are possible.

A Clean Up of Bureaucracy

You can clean your house, you can clean your office, and you can clean the garage. You can tidy up the yard, rearrange the kitchen, vacuum the carpets and sort through the pile of loose DVDs. Then there is the laundry room, the attic, and the den. Cleaning is a full time job, but save room for the computer. Get those files in usable order. Review what is on your desktop today.

Yes, cleaning can be quite a different matter than what you think. It is not just the obvious. It can pertain to getting rid of old files that you have been storing too long, putting pressure on your operating system. Sometimes the computer knows just when to do this chore. It can also apply to the entire way that the electronic world operates. For example, going paperless is a whole new realm we have all embraced. Almost everything can be done on line these days from filing your taxes to starting a new business to updating your driver’s license.

Most of us have to tackle the IRS or some other government agency from time to time. You have no doubt noted the changes in procedure, and they are most welcome. You don’t have to call or send away for forms such as a Social Security application. You can e-file your taxes in a blink of an eye. It is all so amazing that administrators got together to cut the red tape and clean up the bureaucracy. They took a vacuum to unnecessary steps and the cost of snail mail. They made our working lives a breeze.

If you own a business, you know that your quarterly tax reports can be downloaded, filled out digitally, and returned to the right party without you even knowing what, when, where, and why. It is all automatic, done for you, and done right. You can update your status at any time. You don’t have to worry about using the wrong form as they are often dated. You can file your annual state fees, report employee withholding, create W-2s at tax time, and more.

Some of the best cleanup work has been done by the federal government. Who would think it given their reputation for red tape? Red tape is a bother and a nuisance, and even the feds know this. They used to require nothing but manual forms. In the old days people used to roll them into the typewriter. As for mistakes, there was something called white out. Then you made a Xerox copy, placed the paper in an envelope, affixed a stamp, and waited for the mailman.

Wow, times have changed. You can sip your morning coffee, pull up the right form (usually dated), fill it out in a flash, and e-file away. It is fast and easy. The red tape has been broken for good. If you aren’t using the modern way of life, get up to date fast. You will save a lot of time and effort, not to mention red tape.

What is Gov2.0 and What Should it Mean to You

Gov2 with IT upgardes

Although the term Government 2.0 has been around since 2005, it was in 2008 it really stuck as an initiative for the government to utilize the advances in technology and IT systems to create a government system more accessible by the people and for the people.

President Barack Obama’s first memorandum issued in office after his 2008 election was the Open Government Directive defining three pillars to create a more participatory, collaborative and transparent government, whose structure has spread from federal to state and local levels rather quickly.

The idea was to create a system based on technology that allowed for digital interactions between government and citizens, government and business, government and government and government and employees.

Four main activities occur within each of these areas, the first being pushing information. After that, communication between citizens and agencies or agencies to agencies, the ability to do transactions online and governance of the citizens.

So what exactly does that mean for us as citizens and how does this really benefit us?

It allows us to be involved in the government as it was intended by our founding fathers, by the people for the people. It makes information previously hard to get a hold of accessible quickly and easily. It allows us to perform many of the functions previously requiring a long visit to a government office, quickly and at the speed of digital light.

While the government was quick to pick up the initiative, there have been some snags on the road to getting Government 2.0 up and working the way it was intended but it is a learning process like everything else. Realizing this has to be a dynamic initiative, changing, as fast technology is one of the first steps in realizing continuing success with the sharing of information and inclusion of the people in a government that is transparent and accountable to the people.

Transparency in government is vital in order to let the people be informed about what policies the government is trying to implement. It allows them to get more involved at the ground level with policy making.

While there has always been a way to reach your representatives, with Internet and digital services, it is not a lengthy process of past years. Your representative directly represents the people, being able to interact with them more readily allows for more actual representation of the people’s wants.

There are pros and cons to everything really and sometimes we think, with the government involved, there must be more cons. This initiative, however, is one of the best things to happen for allowing the people to be as much a part of the government as they can and to more freely share information.

With more and more people using digital technology, some of it that wasn’t even available back when President Obama sent out the Open Government Directive memo, it only makes sense to have Government as close as an app, or internet browser, away.

The Government and Social Media

As Gov2.0 takes off not only in the United States but the entire world, the question of whether or how much, social media should be part of the initiative is commonly asked.

Many people are quick to criticize the government using such public forums for policy and information sharing but it only makes sense for them to use social media to their advantage much the same way the private sector already does.

Social media has caused people to organize themselves differently than any other time in history. Instead of just being from somewhere and going to some school, you can be classified under special interests, etc. If government sticks to it’s archaic policy of information sharing and interacting with the people, they are missing a huge advantage in progress towards the goal of transparency and also risk alienating large groups of people, mainly their own citizens.

While the debate over government use of social media is hot, with pretty solid camps of for it or against it, I’m with the all for it camp, recognizing the benefits and potential to the government and the people.

As a politician, being able to put yourself out there to the people you represent, the ones who voted for you should be appealing. After all, a big part of winning elections and remaining in office is the ability to market yourself to the citizens.

As a government entity, it would be stupid not to be involved with social media platforms. Look at the recent revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia where social media was the catalyst in giving a voice to the repressed people, causing them to unite and revolt. Any government, which cannot recognize the power behind that and use it to their advantage, getting involved with the people, is basically giving up any kind of power.

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter open the way for real-time interactive discussion and a forum for the people to express their support or disdain. The government can have immediate feedback on policy. Can you ever imagine a time when the President will give his State of the Union Address then refer to his Twitter account for immediate feedback? Maybe he already does and hopefully this interaction among the people and the government will be beneficial in creating policy that actually works.

Maybe with the people getting a say on Social Media platforms, politicians will have to be more accountable for things like, giving themselves raises or using public funds for private endeavors.

To me, the shift to using the Internet and social media, speaks volumes of a government committed to changing to be more transparent, and less separate from the people it was created by and for. It’s up to the citizens to encourage and support the government on social media whether as an entity, agency or single politician and up to the government, and beneficial as well, to listen to the people.

Government Agencies Who Have Successfully Gone Digital – and some who haven’t

Digital Agency

Since the inception of Gov2.0, there have been several government agencies, some local some state and some federal that have assimilated beautifully into an online presence that serves the people. There are some, yes, which haven’t quite met the mark but overall it is a fairly positive experience towards making government more accessible and transparent.

A good part of the population believes the government attempt to keep up with technology has failed miserably, and in some cases. Well let’s just say it needs some work, but overall these sites have made it easier to get the benefits, the interactions and perform transactions with the government than ever before.

MVD or DMV

This is one of the best improvements on accessibility to the people. Pretty much anyone who has ever had to go to the DMV for anything can attest to the long wait times, long lines, and pretty much it taking a better part of the day. That much hasn’t really changed but there are quite a few things you can now do online through your state DMV site that make the whole process as quick as a push of a button.

Things like registration renewals, updating contact information, to name a couple, plus there is all the information you need to know about owning and operation a vehicle on your state, drivers license requirements and so much more. Every DMV site I have visited is easy to navigate, transactions are seamless, contact information is not hard to find, and some even show you the wait times on offices around town in case you do have to visit the actual office.

IRS – The dreaded IRS. Did you cringe when you read it? Well the IRS has come a long way in not being the bad guy in the office, up there, or over there who descends on us at tax time without so much as a – good day. While it took a little while to make the site not such a clunker in terms of ease to get around and what you could or couldn’t do on it, it is now a wealth of information with forms for taxes that once upon a time we had to pick up post offices or office supply stores. They have also made taxes a lot easier by offering e-filing, and those getting a return can check on the status of their money everyday if they like. I don’t think there is much that can change the overall general idea of the IRS being, big, scary, unapproachable, that sort of thing, after all they have a long history of being so. Their online presence is much more appealing for them as well as makes them less scary for the people to interact with them as a bureaucracy.

VA

Taking cares of thousands of veterans, the Veterans administration has always been known as a difficult and time-consuming process. With the changes in technology and government working towards being out there for the people, the VA has put up a site that is user friendly, has places to read all about benefits, apply for benefits and even manage your health care and refill your prescriptions online. In Healthcare, they have added a secure messaging system in order for Vets to reach their providers in a way that is encrypted and like your health records, within the VA system itself. This has changed the ability of vets to get appointments quickly and interact with their providers personally, avoiding long phone delays.

We can’t talk about government successes to be more accessible and transparent, without mentioning the one big bomb, that really is what gives most people a bad taste in their mouth for the Federal government using the Internet.

The website for the recent switch over in health care from private to more governmental, as well as now required insurance, was a good example of the care that needs to be taken in making these policy shifts happen digitally. It was poorly planned and executed, the technology was not up to date and as most of us, especially those of trying to sign into it when it was up know, it broke the internet and never really recovered in time.

There is a lot to be learned from that tank. Hopefully, it will just mean moving forward with a better plan and showing the people that the government is willing to be flexible and really is for the people too.

How Gov2.0 has Politically Empowered the Youngest Voters

I came of age to vote back in the 80’s. Before the Internet. I just wanted to add that in case any of you younger readers are with me today. There was life before Google and Internet and smartphones. True story.

Anyways, I turned 18 a mere few months before the 1988 election. I did not only not care about politics and elections; I really knew nothing about anything that would remotely qualify me to vote. Sure I registered to vote, under the party affiliation of my parents because that is all I knew. The name of the party.

The only way back then to know about policy, election platforms and government in general was to watch the evening news, or read the paper, both of which I found dry and uninteresting. Being young I had more than a little belief that it was all spun anyways. I took a government and economics class but didn’t pay more attention than I needed to graduate.

This attitude of disinterest, of wondering why to even bother, as my vote and my opinion don’t really count, the attitude politics was for old people to figure out, leave it to them, was actually fairly prevalent among the young adult voters. Not only in the time I became old enough to vote, but pretty much up until the 2008 elections, with the exception of one year, 1972

The first year 18-year olds were allowed to cast a ballot for President was 1972 so it goes to follow there was an over 50% turn out, but in years following it declined dramatically, hitting 39% in 1988 and an all-time low of 35% in 1996. To give you a little perspective on how low these numbers are, in 1996 the percentage of voters ages 30 and up who cast a ballot was well over 60%.

In 2008 the estimated turnout of voters ages 18-24 was 54.5%, coming very close to topping the all time high from 1972 and surprisingly remained steady for the 2012 elections. So why the sudden change? How did young voters go from the I don’t care attitude, my vote doesn’t count to suddenly being a major demographic group to vie for in an election.

The Internet, at least in part, contributed greatly to this surge.

Yes it has been around since the mid 90’s but in it’s infancy the full potential of the government to reach young voters, or really anyone, was not even a glimmer in anyone’s eye.

Now, it is one of the singular most popular ways our youth get information about the government, politicians, how their voice counts and has empowered them to speak out and be heard as a real force in the politics of America.

While the government was not necessarily the profound presence on the Internet in 2007 and 2008 either it is today, politicians, for example President Barack Obama had enough forethought to capitalize on the growth in social media popularity to reach the young voters.

Obama was able to effectively utilize social media to get through to voters, using Facebook and Twitter for his platform. Whether he actually targeted the younger voters specifically or just by default of the average age user, he successfully appealed to the younger voter by showing a human, hip and youthful side. And the youth vote pretty much sealed the election for Obama with over 60% casting their vote his way. Romney also used the Internet but was posting only 25% of the Obama campaign and was just not able to bring around the youth vote.

Not all of these were actually aware of what exactly or who they were voting for but the good thing here is they voted, after a steady decline in youth vote since 1972.

Not only are they voting but the younger voters, under 30 are realizing that this government is accessible, and transparent, at least much more so than in previous times, and they see they have a voice and can make a difference. They are becoming more active politically and more outspoken on social media, quick to give feedback on political posts as they are on anything else.

They see their input being regarded almost immediately and instant feedback brings more involvement. The Internet, and the Gov 2.0 directive have politically empowered the younger voters, creating a future of a government not only for the people but even more involvement by the people.