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A peak inside our virtual files

We maintain a list of approximately 200 blogs, webpages and newsletters that we periodically visit to cull new and interesting insights and information about state and local government. Our favorites change over time and we often find new additions to our reading list. We also mourn blogs and websites that have disappeared. (Saddest departure for us was “The Thicket”, the wonderful blog managed and often written by Karl Kurtz at the National Conference of State Legislatures. His 2013 farewell post includes a list of the most popular Thicket stories.)

Here are five blogs, newsletters and websites that are currently among our very favorites. None of these are products of governments themselves. We have a separate list for those.

The London School of Economics, U.S. Centre blog. This pulls posts from a variety of U.S. and international sources. We often find interesting book reviews, and good explanations of the intricacies of U.S. government – for example, the recent post from “The Policy Space” in Australia explaining the differences between Medicaid and Medicare. It’s currently posting about three new pieces a week. There’s also a media center, called The Ballpark, with five video “explainers “about U.S. government and politics (all posted before the 2016 election) and new podcasts at the end of each month.

GovLab includes a blog, digest and other features and is based at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Its constant flow of information provides the latest news and summaries on open data and technological innovation. Lots of good ideas come from other parts of the world, but there’s also some focus on what’s going on in local U.S. governments. Bibliographies on tech topics – for example, most recently on blockchain technology – provide very helpful reading selections. Posts are sometimes a little technical for our non-technical tastes, but we always learn something new. We also like the GovLab index, which provides different loosely related chains of statistics (in the Manner of The Harper’s Index) for topics like criminal justice.

The School of Government blogs at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, covers a number of topics including community and economic development, death and taxes, human capital and public leadership. The most prolific of the School of Government blogs focus on the law, both civil and criminal. Recently, we’ve read posts on how jail discipline is regulated, a post about the decline in capital cases, and a research review about crowdsourcing in local government. (We admit to some prejudices in favor of UNC, as our son, Ben Greene and our daughter-in-law, Madeline Walter, are alumni.)

The Week That Was summary by Frank Shafroth. This weekly newsletter from the George Mason University Municipal Sustainability Project is currently running a bit behind. As of yesterday, the most recent weekly report was from April 28th. Normally Shafroth’s excellent weekly summary comes out on Fridays and provides a great rundown of what’s happened in budget and finance at the federal, state and local levels. Also, there’s lots of regular reporting on infrastructure spending, the sharing economy and a variety of new studies and evaluations. We just wish he and his team (there must be a team otherwise this weekly masterpiece would be impossible to produce) would use more paragraphing. This is more federal than state and local, but useful in helping us separate truth from fiction in government/political reporting and a valuable assist to us for alerts to family and friends on Internet rumors that they shouldn’t believe. Lots of coverage lately about the ACA and the efforts to replace it.

Bonus blog: Futility Closet. This is not focused on state and local government or policy, but it is lots of fun to read. We often pick up quotes and ideas, and are entertained by the endless stream of fascinating historical tidbits, anagrams, etc. Did you know, for example, that French Revolution is an anagram of Violence Run Forth. Or that Aldous Huxley was George Orwell’s French teacher?

We even find a few instances each month in which an entry connects to our city/county/state interests. For example, we learned recently why there is a statue of Lenin in Seattle.


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