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Gavin Newsom's Citizenville Is Packed with Bad Ideas

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Look: It's not that every politician has to be a gifted writer. Nobody expects California lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom's new book, Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government (The Penguin Press, $25.95), to be Dreams from My Father, or even The Audacity of Hope. But the fact that Newsom needed to pull a cowriter in (Lisa Dickey is credited on the cover with a "with," but that's the only mention the poor woman gets at all) to produce this tepid mess of corporate-speak and junior-TED-Talk blather is especially disheartening.

To be fair, Newsom is attempting a difficult dance here: He's trying to draw a nonpartisan or politically disenfranchised audience that may or may not know anything about the worlds of government or technology. Which is to say, he has to not only explain how a Facebook sharing model can be applied to civic governance, he also has to explain what Facebook is and how city governments work.

But that doesn't justify moronic passages like this: "I've always loved the acronym KISS—for 'keep it simple, stupid,'" and "In December 2009, a flock of birds was released upon the world. But not just any birds—Angry Birds." He trots out tired clichés about how Napster and torrent clients and other "armies of Davids" took down the "Goliath" of the music industry. It's all written in a cloying Paco Underhill style of business writing that's information-light and positive-attitude-dense.

It's a shame, because the premise of the book is solid: Government does need to understand how to use technology better. But Newsom tosses ideas onto the wall and doesn't seem to care if they stick. Some of the ideas that Newsom presents—including starting a sort of Yelp-like review system for government agencies where the best-reviewed departments get rewards every week or month, and crowd-sourcing solutions to problems using incentivization—sound reasonable enough on the surface. But the picture that Newsom finally focuses on is a United States government that has been "empowered" with the ruthlessness of a late-1990s dot-com startup. As President Obama has been arguing since his second inauguration, government is responsible for some things that no other business can (or should) handle, and you can't apply the tools of unrestrained free enterprise—which is what Newsom is talking about here—to government without a fundamental change in the government-citizen relationship.

We don't need a government that crowd-sources work for free that skilled government workers now perform, and applying the customer-is-always-right principle of social media to essential government functions is only going to make life more miserable for government employees. Making it easier for people to get their garbageman fired for not smiling enough isn't going to make the essential business of a city happen any faster. It's just going to result in higher jobless numbers. Newsom is a gifted politician—as mayor of San Francisco, he single-handedly jump-started the national conversation about gay marriage nearly a decade ago—but in Citizenville, he seems unable to separate his good ideas from his shit ones. recommended

 

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seatackled 1
Newsom's pretty much part of the establishment. His proudest accomplish in SF was "Care Not Cash," which I think was similar to Mark Sidran's anti-homeless programs. If you think about what's happening with all the old buildings in Cap Hill, then you know what life was with Newsom as mayor.
Posted by seatackled on March 4, 2013 at 1:27 PM · Report this
2
This guy looks too much like the actor from American Psycho. It's distracting. http://cheezburger.com/1056775936
Plus he just vomits rehearsed talking points non-stop so he comes across as insincere.
Posted by DanFan503 on March 4, 2013 at 1:37 PM · Report this
3
Stephen Colbert mocked Newsome's politick-speak blather. Newsome was really awful.
Posted by rabbitbrush on March 4, 2013 at 2:07 PM · Report this
4
So the new political machine can be leveraging your facebook friends,
mass down-voting existing employees to open up their jobs and then 'liking' your cronies into those jobs.
Posted by dirge on March 4, 2013 at 2:41 PM · Report this
5
We don't need a government that crowd-sources work for free that skilled government workers now perform


Why not, if the outcomes are just as good? (I admit, that's big "if").

It works on the private side. I know it's probably not popular to say so in Seattle, but I find Open Office.org does just fine as far as my needs are concerned, and for considerably less that Office.

Why shouldn't that be true of some government functions too?

applying the customer-is-always-right principle of social media to essential government functions is only going to make life more miserable for government employees


You know, when I read reviews online, it's pretty easy to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Right now, I'd say the problems most government bureaucracies face is that they're not responsive enough to the people they ostensibly serve. This could be a tool to level that particular playing field.

Making it easier for people to get their garbageman fired for not smiling enough isn't going to make the essential business of a city happen any faster. It's just going to result in higher jobless numbers.


This doesn't even make any sense. Let's say I do manage to get my garbageman fired for not smiling enough. Does that job disappear? Of course not. They'd just hire someone else.

The fact of the matter is that, right now, government is most responsive to people who have either the time or the money to get involved. Political influence is largely a matter of showing up and speaking out (this is, incidentally, where the Tea Party really excels).

In some ways, that's good: you have to be seriously engaged with an issue to get motivated enough to put in the time and effort to serve on committees or run a neighborhood organization or get involved with electing a politician.

But in other ways, it's bad. It tends to disenfranchise people who work for a living and who don't have the time to organize. There's a reason why senior citizens have such outsize influence on government—they tend to be relatively well off and have a lot of time on their hands.

This could be a way of balancing that.
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Posted by Corydon on March 4, 2013 at 3:58 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 6
I like the cover. I'm glad they didn't just imitate Malcolm Gladwell covers, as so many of these think-outside-the-box books do.
Posted by Free Lunch on March 4, 2013 at 7:27 PM · Report this
7
… Sharing this is clueless as the growing of government to this size today is completely irresponsible just to employ people with jobs that disappear and and results to China, both Govt. and private: "As President Obama has been arguing since his second inauguration, government is responsible for some things that no other business can (or should) handle, and you can't apply the tools of unrestrained free enterprise—which is what Newsom is talking about here—to government without a fundamental change in the government-citizenrelationship."
Posted by fv on March 5, 2013 at 1:53 AM · Report this

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