Five for Friday: January 30

Five interesting stories (and one research piece) from the week that was…

Satisfaction with fed customer service worst ever” (Colby Hochmuth / Federal Computer Week)

Pull Quote:  “According to ACSI Director of Research Forrest Morgeson, websites were the favorite avenue of interaction with the federal government, although, government websites showed no improvement after declining a year ago — the website score remained unchanged at 72.

“There’s a significant margin. They are happier when services are done through a website,” Morgeson told FCW. “We use that as an explanation for why websites are going to be part of the solution to improve customer service. If cuts are going to be made to the people delivering the services, more attention should be paid to the website, Morgeson added.”

How Did Politics Get So Personal?” (Thomas B. Edsall/ New York Times)

PQ: “The result, according to Iyengar, is that “since inter-personal contact across the party divide is infrequent, it is easier for people to buy into the caricatures and stereotypes of the out party and its supporters.”

Iyengar’s findings are backed up by a 2014 Pew Research Center study that revealed that “the level of antipathy that members of each party feel toward the opposing party has surged over the past two decades.” Fully 36 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats believe the opposition party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being,” Pew found.”

The Debt: Mission Unaccomplished” (Ruth Marcus / RealClear Politics)

PQ: “Yes, the presidential math is correct: The deficit has shrunk from its jaw-dropping heights ($1.4 trillion in 2009) to a projected $468 billion this year. A pile of money, to be sure, but eminently manageable as a percentage of the economy — 2.6 percent, about the historical average, compared with 9.8 percent in 2009. But this column isn’t about the deficit — it’s about the debt, the lingering, and potentially dangerous, hangover of years of spending beyond our means, plus the hammer-blow of the financial crisis.

The CBO put the ugly picture of the trajectory of federal debt on the cover of this year’s report, and for good reason. At the end of this fiscal year, debt held by the public (the most relevant measure of federal debt) will be 74 percent of gross domestic product.”

States Where the Middle Class Is Dying” (Thomas C. Frohlich and Alexander Kent / 24/7 Wall St)

PQ: “Based on average pre-tax income earned by the third quintile, or the middle 20% of earners in each state, middle class incomes in California declined the most in the country. Incomes among middle class Californian households fell by nearly 7% between 2009 and 2013, while income among the state’s fifth quintile, or the top 20% of state earners, grew by 1.3%. Based on an analysis of household incomes among America’s middle class, these are the states where the middle class is suffering the most.”

Confirmed: Starbucks knows the next hot neighborhood before everybody else does” (Spencer Rascoff and Stan Humphries / Quartz)

PQ: “But as it turns out, Starbucks correlates with something else, too: rising home values. To explore exactly how closely the two correlate, we compared a database of Starbucks locations with Zillow data. And since Starbucks’ corporate headquarters in Seattle is located just a few miles down the road from Zillow, we also took the opportunity to pay our neighbors a visit, and to pick the brains of Starbucks’ own real estate analytics team—the whizzes who determine where to put that next Starbucks location. Here’s what we can tell you: Starbucks equates with venti-sized home-value appreciation. Moreover, Starbucks seems to be fueling—not following—these higher home values.”

Research: “Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis” (Pew Charitable Trusts)

Data Points: CA: 5th in Revenue Volatility / 50th in Long-term Debt

ICYMI: Monday, January 26

Gleanings from late Friday through the weekend…

Reconciling cops and civilians requires being good to each other” (William Bratton / Washington Post)

Pull Quote: “On the other side, our critics need to recognize the current context. They are not living in a police state. The U.S. incarceration rate may be too high, but imprisonment has fallen by 25 percent in New York state prisons and by more than 40 percent in New York City jails from their respective peaks. The NYPD continues to explore alternatives to arrest for minor offenses, and we hope to reduce the number of people “in the system” even further. And the prevalence of brutality is a fiction. My officers use force in only 2 out of every 100 arrests. In 2014, they intentionally used their firearms in only 42 instances, out of 20 million contacts with civilians, 4.5 million radio runs and nearly 400,000 arrests.”

The Wrong Way to Keep Cops and Firefighters on the Job” (Charles Chieppo/GOVERNING)

PQ: DROP also shines a light on the underlying problem of a system that allows public workers to begin collecting pensions after 20 years, regardless of age. While I have no problem with enhanced pensions for public-safety workers, taxpayers should not be expected to provide ex-police officers and firefighters in their 40s with pensions for life as those former public employees embark on second careers.”

The Problem with (Largely) Leaving Public Management Out of the State of the Union” (John Hudak/Brookings Institution)

PQ: “For the details, needs, and consequences of managing a civilian workforce of 2.7 million people—a brief mention. Of course, this is unsurprising. Despite lofty terms like “second term management agenda,” this administration has seemingly focused little on the hard work and nuance of managing the executive branch. That lack of focus on management can surely be associated with some high-profile failings in the executive branch including mismanagement at IRS, the aforementioned veterans’ health missteps, and a healthcare website that struggled mightily to come online.”

How Economists Came to Dominate the Conversation” (Justin Wolfers/NY Times)

PQ: “Using the new Chronicle tool that catalogs the entire Times archive, I discovered that in recent years around one in 100 articles mention the term “economist,” and these typically occur in the context of introducing a proponent of the dark arts. Far fewer articles mention the terms historian or psychologist, while sociologists, anthropologists and demographers rarely rate a mention.”

Five for Friday: January 23

Clippings from the week that was…

“The myth of the California Dream” (Joe Mathews/ San Diego U-T)

Pull Quote:  “It’s time to awaken from that old dream and look in the mirror. We are a great place — I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else — but we are not the same state we keep saying we are. We are no longer that great destination for people dreaming of a new life. A majority of us are now native-born Californians. We have many immigrants, but few are new arrivals. The younger, working-class people who once flocked to California are leaving. And so we are not as young as we think we are — the birth rate is below replacement, and the number of children in the state declined by nearly 200,000 in the past decade.”

How To Sell Off a City” (Rick Perlstein / In These Times)

Editor’s Note: I’m fully aware that ITT is a left-wing journal and Perlstein is also a liberal with an axe to grind here. This piece is included to show how government is “being done differently”, and one liberal’s opinion of these changes.

PQ: “That’s in keeping with the cash-up-front, consequences-later logic of privatization deals. An extreme example is a 2004 deal that then-mayor Daley won’t even be alive to see the outcome of: the leasing of the Chicago Skyway for $1.8 billion to a consortium composed of Macquarie, a Sydney-based investment firm, and Cintra, a Spanish private infrastructure developer, for 99 years. In 2007, Chicago’s chief financial officer, Dana Levenson, explained the rationale for the deal to Businessweek: “There is money to be had, and cities need money.” He pointed out that because of the $1.8 billion cash influx, Chicago was able to pay off its debt, commit $100 million to social programs like Meals on Wheels, and have enough left over to earn as much interest income as it used to make from tolls (which now went instead to the concessionaires in Sydney and Spain). Sounds nice—unless you happen to drive on the Skyway.”

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ICYMI: Monday, January 19

A few items I gleaned from the weekend you might have missed…including a cool one related to Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Long-lost audio of Martin Luther King, Jr speech found in UCLA storage room.” (Carey Reed, The Rundown/PBS NewsHour) Pull Quote: “The 55-minute recording of the speech delivered by the late civil rights leader on April 27, 1965 at the University of California-Los Angeles was unearthed from a storage room by archivist Derek Bolin and Tim Groeling, chair of the UCLA Department of Communication Studies.’It’s a speech of importance that deserves to be released on a day of importance,’ Bolin, also a 2013 UCLA graduate, said Friday in a press release on what would have been King Jr.’s 86th birthday.”

California Spending Big to Halt School Reform Lawsuit Backed by Republicans and the ACLU” (Steve Greenhut, Reason.com) PQ: “Torlakson won a surprisingly strong victory and the Department of Education now is doing exactly what Tuck said it would do: continue to fight—rather than resolve—the case, known as Cruz v. the State of California. The Brown administration recently informed legislative leaders of a budget adjustment that will allow it to spend another $3.35 million on outside attorneys to continue the case.”

Fresno’s Mayor and LA County: What a fight!” (George Hostetter, Fresno Bee) PQ: “We knew we had problems when the returns from Los Angeles County started coming in.”That’s what Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin told me several days ago when we chatted by phone about her race for the state controller’s office.Turns out LA County voter returns are still catching the eyes of political gurus throughout the state.”

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Five for Friday: January 16

A little weekend reading from a distillation of pieces that got me thinking this week…

Beyond Josh Lyman Politics: How the West Wing Miseducated My Political Generation” (Pete Davis, Front Porch Republic) Pull Quote: “Despite candidate Obama’s call for citizens to “be the change we have been waiting for” – to not “wait for some other person … some other time” – political engagement, under President Obama’s watch, has become evermore defined as spectatorship of the interpersonal drama of Washington insiders.”

Governments Making It Easier for Citizens to Know the Law” (Tod Newcombe, GOVERNING) PQ: “By opening up the city’s code, people may find it much easier to get answers to legal questions like where their children can attend school and what the rules are on parking and workplace safety compliance. The D.C. developer who contacted Zvenyach and triggered the unlocking of the city’s code was researching regulations pertaining to restaurant valet stations.”

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