Thursday, November 26, 2009

Government e-petitions give power to the people

Government plans to roll out e-petitions across the UK could offer people a real say in the democratic process, a conference has heard.

The legislation to make e-petitions compulsory for all councils in the UK comes into force in April 2010.

It could result in a national e-petition scheme and force Westminster to take more notice of people power, thinks web guru Tom Steinberg.

One of the biggest problems with the Number 10 e-petition scheme is that it bypasses parliament meaning that there is little obligation to follow through on the campaigns raised.

"Whether or not it will get better is down to the government," said Mr Steinberg, who is now a digital advisor to the Conservative party.

Despite criticisms of the Downing Street system, it has proved popular, clocking over 10 million signatures to date.

Parliament is currently considering opening its own e-petition system but there has been one major stumbling block, according to Mr Steinberg.

"They just don't seem to believe that it can be done as cheaply as it can," said Mr Steinberg.

It is likely there is also resistance from MPs, unsure of whether they want a closer relationship with citizens.

Matthew Mannian is democratic services team leader for the London borough of Lambeth and helped roll out its e-petitions scheme.


Swiss court grants Polanski bail in US child sex case

A Swiss court has accepted film-maker Roman Polanski's plea to be freed on $4.5m bail from a Swiss jail where he is being held for a US child sex case.
The court said Polanski could stay at his chalet in the Swiss Alps. He would be monitored by an electronic tag.
Polanski, 76, has been wanted in the US since fleeing the country in 1978 after pleading guilty to having unlawful sex a year earlier with a 13-year-old girl.
He was held in Zurich after travelling from France in September.

On Wednesday, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court accepted Polanski's bail plea and his offer to surrender his passport.
The court said Polanski would be subjected to "constant electronic surveillance" at his chalet and an electronic tag would be activated if he attempted to leave the premises.
It also said that Polanski - who holds dual French and Polish citizenship - would stay in the prison pending a possible appeal against the ruling.
The Swiss justice ministry has 10 days to appeal against the court's decision.
But Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said she saw no reason to appeal against the decision.
It is highly unusual for extradition subjects to be granted bail in Switzerland, says the BBC's Imogen Foulkes, adding that Polanski's first application was refused.
But this time the court ruled bail conditions should be enough to prevent him fleeing back to France, our correspondent says.
The ruling is not thought to affect the Swiss government's ongoing assessment of whether it should extradite Polanski to the US.
Polanski has not set foot in the US since fleeing the country in 1978, and has settled in France.
Speaking after detention in September, US prosecutors disputed claims that his arrest came out of the blue, saying he had been on an Interpol "wanted list" for years.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Obama administration on open source

(From the information week).

Having rebuilt on the open source Drupal platform, President Obama's new media team is calling on the open source community for new ideas and technology.

The White House will challenge developers to apply some of the best ideas they are already working on "for the public good," including for use by and elsewhere in the public sector, Cole said. An event is planned, though it's not clear when it will take place.

"We can call upon the expertise of the community to say, hey, this has been our experience with this module, are there any ways to improve this? We're excited to rely on the community even more for ideas," said Lo Bue.

In developing on Drupal, the Obama team used mostly available code, but it wrote some custom code to meet scalability and security requirements. The new media team is now working with the White House legal counsel to determine how to contribute that code back to the community. "I can't promise a time line, [as] it's somewhat unprecedented for our organization to take that on, but we feel strongly about it," Cole said.

Cole and Philips provided insight into forthcoming features on, including new search and authentication capabilities. The site's search engine was built with Apache Solr, which Cole called "one of the best improvements," since it goes beyond keyword search. Moving forward, the White House plans to make it possible to subscribe to topics, so that people can receive alerts when there's a speech, document, or blog post on that topic.

The White House is also working to add user authentication, but it's not yet clear what form that will take, as the new media team continues to weigh privacy concerns. "We want a site that can work both for people who are skeptical of the government and for those who want to participate fully with government," Phillips said.

The White House is planning to make increasing use of RDFa, a way of tagging metadata to content that could make hard-to-find data more searchable. "We have a lot of primary source content and have it exposed in ways that traditionally hasn't been done by government," Cole said. "Instead of just having PDFs that are scanned, we're trying to reverse that trend."

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Berkeley protest (2)

Fri, November 20, 2009 5:00 pm
Since 3:00 p.m. today a group of senior administrators, faculty, and student leaders
have been reaching out to the protesters inside Wheeler Hall. Attempts to engage in
a conversation with the 15 to 30 protestors estimated to be in the building have
been refused. The protesters are demanding reinstatement of 38 AFSCME custodial
staff who were recently laid off and amnesty and the dropping of charges against any
of the protestors. Today's takeover of Wheeler Hall has affected 3800 students who
were not able to attend classes in Wheeler Hall, as well as many others who have
offices and work in the building. Activities in many other campus buildings were
disrupted by falsely activating fire alarms. We continue to attempt to resolve the
situation and encourage the protestors to leave the building of their own accord.

Fri, November 20, 2009 10:47 pm
The Wheeler Hall protest ended peacefully this evening when 40 protestors who had
occupied the second floor of the building were cited for trespassing by UC Berkeley
Police and released. Thanks to the efforts of ASUC student leaders and faculty who
worked with Vice-Chancellor Student Affairs Harry Le Grande, Executive
Vice-Chancellor & Provost George Breslauer, and me, our police were able to diffuse
the situation and end the protest.

Throughout the day, the large crowds that gathered around Wheeler Hall necessitated
significant police presence to maintain safety. It is truly regrettable, however,
that a few members of our campus community may have found themselves in conflict
with law enforcement officers. Overall, the officers who managed the day's events
did very well under difficult circumstances.

I understand that our students are justifiably angry over the fee increases and
reductions in staff necessitated by the egregious disinvestment by Sacramento in the
University of California. They are not alone in this. Clearly, we cannot allow
illegal occupations of our buildings and disruption of our academic programs. Today
3800 students were unable to attend class in Wheeler Hall.

We have a strong tradition of free speech on campus. Let us not forget that we are
all fighting for the same cause: to maintain the public character of our university
by sustaining Berkeley's excellence and accessibility. Taking over our classroom
buildings is not a productive way in which to advance our shared interests in
gaining support for public higher education. Let us work together, not in
opposition, to move forward our cause.

The Berkeley protest

Fri, November 20, 2009 9:01 am
The campus police are working to resolve a protest action that is occurring in
Wheeler Hall. Staff, faculty and students who would normally be working in Wheeler
Hall are asked to remain out of the building until further notice. Employees who
can contact their supervisors should talk to them if possible to determine whether
telecommuting or relocation to another work area is an option. Those in the
building right now are advised to leave until the situation has been resolved.
Employees who remain on campus may check in at Dwinelle Plaza at 10am. for further
Fri, November 20, 2009 10:42 am
Campus police continue to work to resolve the protest action at Wheeler Hall.
Campus police are striving to end the occupation of Wheeler Hall with the safety of
our campus community, including all those involved in this action, as an uppermost

Wheeler Hall will remain closed until further notice. Instructors who teach in
Wheeler Hall will be contacted shortly by e-mail.

Fri, November 20, 2009 12:07 pm
Approximately 200 protestors are continuing to demonstrate on the south side of
campus in the area around Wheeler Hall. Wheeler Hall is occupied by protestors and
the building remains locked.

All classes at Wheeler are suspended until further notice and employees who work in
Wheeler Hall are advised that they should plan on not being able to enter the
building for the remainder of the work day. Employees should confirm alternative
work arrangements with their supervisor, as possible. Instructors who teach in
Wheeler Hall are being contacted by e-mail.

Fire alarms have been intentionally set off in several buildings including Barrows,
Dwinelle, and Sproul Hall. The fire department is verifying that these are false
alarms and will allow people to reenter buildings when it is safe to do so.

The safety of our campus community, including those involved in this protest, are
an utmost priority of our police as they work to resolve the situation.

Thank you to all members of the campus community for your continued patience in this
matter. Please check for updates throughout the day on the Berkeley home page

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

FT ranking of EU finance ministers

In a year when finance ministers have had to throw away their usual scripts and improvise on policy, who has come out top of the FT’s ranking? Our interactive guide shows how each of the European finance ministers was ranked politically, on economic criteria, on credibility and overall.