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On The Wastefulness of Taxpayer-Funded Mansions

People often say that “you get what you pay for,” but in the case of communication that’s not necessarily true. Rather, “you get what you’re committed to.”

In the case of the federal government, it would be wise for leaders to consider renewing their commitment to honest, accurate, relevant reporting as to how agencies are spending taxpayer dollars. In August 2001, the GAO published “Internal Control and Management Tool,” which identified “information and communications” as one of the top 5 ways an agency can ensure accountability to the public. This term is defined from an internal point of view, as “relevant, reliable” content in all directions. However one can easily take it a step further: Great internal communication means great external communication as well.

And it doesn’t have to be costly. In September 2016, the GAO published a study of the $1.5 billion per year the federal government spends on advertising and public relations. Between FY2006–2014, on average, the federal government spent more than twice as much per year on advertising and PR contracts than on federal public affairs full-time employees: $1 billion vs. $430 million, on average.

(This data is admittedly skewed for a few reasons so consider it a general ballpark figure to compare the relative amount of money spent on contractors vs. FTEs.)

The Department of Defense does the lion’s share of the spending — 60% of the contract obligations and slightly more than 40% of the staff.

Oddly, when you consider how many headlines we regularly read about government “spin doctors” and propagandists, the government spends almost no money on public affairs specialists as civil servants— they comprise just slightly more than 1/4 of a percent (.28%) of all staff.

A recent internal audit by the Army found that much of its marketing and advertising is “ineffective,” a significant problem compounded by the fact that the DoD spends “hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars…each year” on this and plans to spend an estimated $4 billion over the next decade.

We don’t have a copy of the original audit yet, so it’s not clear how the conclusion was reached, but it’s clear that a simple Facebook Q&A is a free and effective way to reach the public. For example the State Dept. recently conducted a Q&A on applying for a U.S. passport.

For those who want to know more, Facebook & GovLoop published a guide to gov. use of FB that describes the Q&A feature (p. 9). This of course is not an endorsement of either.

The point is, there are many free ways to engage proactively with the public on topics they care about.

The trick to doing this well of course is to be receptive to public interest (they may care about a subject you don’t necessarily think is worthy of a session); prepare well (e.g. with a “murderboard” session where you think of the most difficult questions people could ask and develop responses in advance); promote the event effectively, across Facebook and Twitter (State had a great hashtag, #AskTravelGov), and have a clear moderation policy. (It should be a real conversation, not degenerate into a shoutdown.)

When it comes to good communication, commitment (and a bit of common sense) go a lot further than throwing dollars into the trash.

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Posted January 9, 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. This post is hereby released into the public domain. All opinions are the author’s own. Creative Commons photo by paulbr75 via Pixabay.

The Essential Function of a Rabbi

To bring people closer to the observance of the mitzvos, to help them love and fear God in the context of an existence filled with suffering and cruelty.

To provide human and humane answers to the questions people ask, taking into account knowledge of the Torah in its totality. 

To view the totality of Torah as encompassing the commandments that regulate interpersonal relationships (bain Adam LaChavero) and those that regulate the relationship between human beings and God (bain Adam LaMaKom).

To be aware at all times that there are unfortunately so many rabbis who have singlehandedly destroyed the "brand" of Judaism with their misdeeds, in particular through vile exploitation of those who trusted them blindly. 

To support those who do the opposite.

To measure the fitness of other rabbis by their results, not their restrictiveness.

To look for example at the number of people who go to the synagogue and at the increase in their level of observance. 

To be aware that one's observance level is correlated with their being labeled as good people with the potential to be better always -- not sinners from the minute they walk in the door. 

Certainly to distinguish between an actual requirement and a made-up requirement, not to mention a leniency.

To remember that they exist in a social context wherein most Jews don't even believe in God.

To bring their heads up from the books, and get out into the real world with the people.
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Posted January 10, 2018 by Dr. Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal, adapted from a Facebook comment posted earlier today. All opinions are the author's own. This post is hereby released into the public domain. CC0 Creative Commons photo by mig-ua via Pixabay.

Those Who Know, Don't Tell

"Those who know, don't tell, and those who tell, don't know."

That was a saying I heard often growing up.

Anyone can go on television, write a book, appear at conferences, give rousing speeches, and tell you they're a messenger of some kind of truth.

But in my experience, the people who really know things, the people who are in a position to opine on what is going on behind the scenes, are not going to tell you, ever.

The following factors produce their silence:
  • Legal agreements.
  • The trust of those who have confided in them.
  • A certain level of fear as to what might happen if they spoke out.
This isn't to argue that you should therefore adopt a certain way of thinking. That I somehow magically have the key, if such a thing could exist.

It does mean that you benefit from keeping an open yet critical mind at all times.

Think about what motivates the person to say the things they say.

Think about who they hang out with.

That, more than the chapters of their book, will tell you everything you need to know.
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CC0 Creative Commons Photo by daswortgewand via Flickr CC0 Creative Commons. Posted January 8, 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author's own.

#MeToo: For Any Therapist In Maryland Who Has Reason To Believe Children Are At Risk, What's Next?

Here is my best understanding, and if it's incorrect please let me know. You're a therapist in MD and an adult tells you they were molested by someone who is still working with minors. The official number to call, any time of day or night, in Montgomery County is 240-777-4417. (See links below for other reporting numbers.) The fact that this person still works with children makes it important to tell the appropriate authorities about allegations of prior abuse, even if the reporting party is an adult at the time they disclose this information.

* Informal guide to child reporting - see #7 and #9 (I did not write this)
* State-by-state reporting requirements
* Local reporting offices in Maryland

Most people are not bad, but the ones that are bad have a way of repeating their behavior till they're stopped by law enforcement.

If you're not sure what to do, please consult a competent legal authority.
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Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. This post is hereby released into the public domain. Photo by LauritaM via Pixabay.

Vishnitzer Chassidim Doing Outreach?

Last night we had the privilege of attending a musical havdalah service with The Traveling Chassidim at Aish HaTorah of Greater Washington.

Little did I know that these Chassidim, like my family, are Vishnitzer Chassidim, from Romania.

Wow! What a powerful sight to see Vishnitzers singing the traditional beautiful melodies I heard only occasionally, on visits to Brooklyn.

What a powerful sight to see Vishnitzers talking about outreach, when my whole life has been the dichotomy between Chabadniks, who broke with tradition by recruiting Jews in the street to put on a pair of Tefillin, and non-Chabadniks, who have long believed that outreach is a bad idea.

Essentially: "If you want religion, you want it and if you don't, you don't -- we don't push."

What a powerful sight to see Vishnitzers saying that ALL Jews are one family, and one community, and come visit us, and all the divisions are really artificial.

This means so much to me because I am acutely aware that I'm not as religious as my extended family, and I often feel inadequate because of it.

What a powerful sight to see Vishnitzers saying that the arrival of Moshiach depends on such unity.

I loved the singing and the dancing, and the message of redemptive joy, joy amid all the pain and the suffering of life. (Here is Andy in full shtreimel -- now there's a sight I never thought I'd see!)

What a powerful night, a night I will never forget.

Here's what the concert looked like.

Here's the miracle that happened last night, too: The community came together and prayed, and within about 12 hours of a missing woman's disappearance being announced, it was relayed to us that Aliza (Greenberg) O'Connor, who went missing from D.C.'s Union Station on January 2, 2018, has been found and is safe and sound.

A complete, complete miracle.
As Andy said yesterday, God please save us, for tragedy always lurks, and for some the pain has struck and is terrible beyond words.

Maybe we can't all do all 613 mitzvos, but we can support one another and do the best we can.
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Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal. This post is hereby released into the public domain. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. Photo by Dr. Blumenthal.