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Claw Back | Civic Hall

The Attorney General Jeff Sessions is following through on a threat to withhold federal funds from state and local jurisdictions for not complying with federal immigration laws, Jessica Taylor reports for NPR. Sessions also said that the Justice Department would “claw back” grants already disbursed to so-called sanctuary cities as well.

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“It’s hard not to get behind any plan that makes government more effective and tries to use data instead of, say, raw ideology to help craft better policy decisions. So let’s wish the White House success,” Timothy O’Brien, author of the Trump biography “TrumpNation,” opines for the Chicago Tribune. “In fact, let’s toast Trump and Kushner as fast as we can because they’re going to need all of the help they can get if this nod toward innovation is going to amount to anything more than a head fake.” O’Brien proceeds to skewer Trump and Kushner’s understanding of innovation, and of “ahead-of-schedule” and “under-budget.”

Over at Quartz, Heather Timmons has the full list of the issues in the hands of 36-year-old Jared Kushner.

Related: After the healthcare debacle last week, a sobering take by The Washington Post’s James Hohmann on how Trump is actually winning more than you think.

Democrats want to know who is coming and going from the “southern White House”—but they can’t, because nobody is keeping track. Darren Samuelsohn reports for Politico that “Mar-a-Lago…doesn’t keep tabs on the identity of guests who come and go on a routine basis, even while the president is in residence.”

A representative from the heart of Silicon Valley visited coal country, Nancy Scola reports for Politico. California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna told Scola, “There’s got to be greater empathy among those in Silicon Valley for some of the pain that has been caused.” But he also wanted to spread entrepreneurial spirit. “It’s just getting people to dream that they can go try to be like Elon Musk or Steve Jobs.” But the people he met with—some of them formerly unemployed workers who have gone through a training program to learn how to develop mobile apps—just want to be taken seriously as applicants for tech jobs.

Whoopsie: Election officials in Hong Kong have reported losing two laptop computers holding the personal information for all 3.7 million registered voters in the city, Ellie Ng reports for the Hong Kong Free Press.

The Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Public Integrity, ProPublica, the Investigative Reporting Workshop, and New York University have received grants totaling $12 million from Democracy Fund and First Look Media to help continue their work supporting an independent, robust, and free press.

What Works Cities announced today the addition of 10 new cities to its roster, bringing the total to 77, and they launched a What Works Cities certification program.

Enter the Zebra: Entrepreneurs Jennifer Brandel, Mara Zepeda, and Astrid Scholz write in a Medium post that developing alternative business models is a central moral challenge of our time. They propose calling these restorative companies “Zebras” as a counterpoint to the destructive, “disrupting” nature of the “unicorn.” “These alternative models will balance profit and purpose, champion democracy, and put a premium on sharing power and resources,” they write. “Companies that create a more just and responsible society will hear, help, and heal the customers and communities they serve.”

The Fempowerment Fad: Earlier this month a trifecta of stories about the newly-minted-feminist SHE-E-O Miki Agrawal—of the period-embracing panty company Thinx—revealed that company practices and Agrawal’s behavior were destructive—at least one employee has said Agrawal sexually harassed her—and decidedly un-feminist. A hypocritical unicorn? Not so fast. Buzzfeed’s Doree Shafrir connects this particular feminist hypocrisy to a “new trend” in startup culture, pointing also to Thrive Global founder and staunch Uber-apologist Arianna Huffington, Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso, and even the Other First Lady herself, Ivanka Trump.

Kerry Flynn writes on Mashable that Facebook’s new Town Hall feature, which allows you to contact your local representatives in a few clicks, is the best thing the platform has ever done.

Remember, as we previously shared in First Post, The Verge’s Natt Garun is skeptical because the feature relies on the information that officials have provided themselves.

Flynn also reports that Facebook announced that it will start putting out local election reminders to help get out the vote.

Day of Zen

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Cities Can Prepare for Trump by Establishing Digital Service Organizations and Mobilizing Civic Tech Communities

Within a few weeks of Trump’s victory, mayors of big “sanctuary cities” throughout America, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles declared that they wouldn’t collaborate with a Trump administration order to deport peaceful, law-abiding resident. Trump is now threatening that he will deny these cities federal funding unless they comply. The amount of money that cities could be denied by the Trump administration isn’t entirely clear, but Mother Jones estimates that Washington DC could potentially lose up to 25% of its budget, New York and San Francisco could lose 10% and Los Angeles could lose 2%.

If cities want to have a leg to stand on during their negotiations with the Trump administration, they must prepare to operate without federal funding. If there is one message US cities need to convey to Trump, it’s that they can turn Trump’s belligerence into the political will they need to make municipal government more  efficient, transparent and participatory than the Federal government; and in the process restructure the relationship between municipalities and nations. Trump and his supporters must realize that the more pressure the Federal government puts on cities, the more cities will unite together, and the faster an emergent, post-nation-state paradigm will emerge. If In short, if Trump doesn’t play his cards right, he could very well become the president that undermines the role of the nation-state in global affairs and kicks off a new version of the “devolution revolution“, but this time based in cities and inspired by progressive values.

Municipal governments will not be able to fend off the federal government if their bureaucracies are inefficient and unpopular with the public. Most municipal bureaucracies were designed in an era of switchboards and memos and need a significant upgrade. Is there really any doubt that new systems designed around smart phones and open source software couldn’t out perform the many-decades-old legacy systems most cities currently use by significant margins? The factor limiting the upgrading of municipal bureaucracies are political, not technological. Changing how government works involves shifting the balance of power within agencies, department and groups. These types of changes require tremendous amounts of buy-in from members of the bureaucracy and the public in general. This buy-in is hard to get, but with the nightmare of Trump using federal funds as leverage to coerce cities to adopt policies their residents abhor, it will become much easier to make the case that municipalities must engage in serious internal reform.

The choice for city residents should be clear: adopt 21st century technologies and organizational forms, or submitting to federal coercion. If current city leaders can’t or won’t execute the reforms needed to wean their cities off federal funds, then new leaders need to be brought in who will. Instead of talking about it — let’s build it. For our cities. And now. As if the lives of our neighbors depends on it. Because it might.

Existing models show us how we can systematically transforming government agencies through the adoption and use of inexpensive open source tools and techniques. One group that performs this type of activity is 18F, a unit within the Federal Government’s General Services Administration. 18F helps federal agencies figure out how to improve their operations using open source technology and iterative development processes. They’ve been extremely successful, to the point where government contractors lodged an official complaint that 18F was hurting their businesses because they were saving the Federal government too much money.  18F’s is small group in a massive federal government so their impact is limited, but their model is spreading. The Pentagon’s Defense Digital Services and the White Houses US Digital Service both model themselves off of 18F. City governments could and should create similar types of Digital Service Organizations (DSOs) as a means of increasing their ability to not only do more with less, but also as a means of challenging the Trump administration’s competence.

One of the innovative features of DSOs is their commitments to clear documentation of business processes and utilization of open source software. This allows them to share the innovations they develop for one agency with other agencies within that government (and ideally with other governments around the world.) This eliminates complex procurement processes, reduces costs and even creates an opportunity for highly skilled developers outside government to contribute to their effort. Since the solutions DSOs create are often open source, they can (and do) set up bounty systems that allow software developers to submit code that solve problems identified by the DSO. Allowing highly skilled urban residents to contribute code to a project that improves a city’s effectiveness if precisely the type of deep contribution city residents should be able to make to defend their cities from federal coercion.

There are existing “civic tech” volunteer groups in cities all around the country filled with people passionate about finding ways to help city governments run faster, better and cheaper. A great example is NYC’s BetaNYC group. These groups present fantastic venues for sourcing and organizing volunteers that can amplify and support the work of DSOs to help make cities more resilient to federal coercion. But technology is just one area. Cities will need to build many more mechanisms that can convert their resident’s anger at Federal policies into surges of local volunteer-ship that increase the capability of city governments and reduce their need for federal aid.

If cities can find more effective ways to mobilize their massive human resources, then the era of Trump will be a catalyst pushing cities to be more efficient, autonomous and globally networked than ever before. This might sound like overkill, or too much work, but we have to be prepared if we want to defend ourselves and our neighbors from destructive federal actions. And if it turns out we overreacted and mistakenly volunteered to improve our cities, so it goes.