Why governments need to start with mobile sites, not native apps.
As citizens turns to the Internet for government information, policy and e-services, government entities necessarily have to respond. Government transparency means using search data to connect with citizens and increasing their findability. It also means "fishing where the fish are," engaging citizens on Facebook, Twitter or any other place citizens are congregating online. As Gov 2.0 goes local, it will naturally be tempting for state and town governments to create applications for the most popular platforms.
This is not a hypothetical scenario any more. At the recent Govfresh Gov 2.0 conference in Manor, Texas, one of the most compelling conversations circulated around exactly this issue. The archived video from the panel is available here.
The context for the conversation is important, since the decisions made by Texas will serve as a case study for other state governments. Earlier this year, Texas.gov relaunched with a new design and many new features, as detailed by Luke Fretwell at Govfresh. The state also developed a Texas.gov iPhone app to provide access to information and services to its citizens. As iPhone apps go, it's both handsome and functional.
Where the conversation in Manor got heated, however, was when Texas state government officials revealed that there was no Android or BlackBerry app, nor was there a mobile version of the Texas.gov site. One attendee, CityCamp founder Kevin Curry, asked a simple but important question: Are .gov iPhone apps "empowering the empowered?" Given that such apps require an Internet connection and an expensive iPod Touch or iPhone, do they essentially add to a digital divide? Is this an evolution of the issue that Michael Gurstein raised in September, where open data empowers the empowered?
The consensus of the attendees in Texas was clear: governments should start by building mobile sites to ensure access for the greatest number of citizens. After that, turn to HTML5 to create applications that will work on any device. Below, Manor Govfresh delegate Brownell Chalstrom talks about whether government mobile app development should focus on iPhones, Android or native HTML web apps first:
For an example of what that might look like in the publishing world, check out the public beta for the pocket reference of the O'Reilly mobile HTML5 app. While the W3C may suggest holding off on putting HTML5 into websites until 2011, the bets that Google, Facebook, the New York Times and the AP are making provide ample demonstration of the power of the HTML5 specification right now.
The power of mobile
Why is this important? As Pew Internet researcher Susannah Fox powerfully articulated in her presentation on the power of mobile:
82 percent of American adults have a cell phone. Six in 10 American adults go online wirelessly with a laptop or mobile device. Mobile was the final front in the access revolution. It has erased the digital divide. A mobile device is the Internet for many people. Access isn't the point anymore. It's what people are doing with the access that matters.
These choices won't be easy. Everywhere you look in the technology world, there's a new app. Government technology shops, judging by their output, have become afflicted with a kind of "shiny app syndrome," given that an app is a substantive accomplishment that can be trotted out for officials and the public.
It's understandable. The rapid growth of the iTunes platform has driven the development of a new mobile application ecosystem. Google, RIM, Palm and BlackBerry have launched competing application marketplaces, although only Android has grown to comparable scale. Just this past week, Apple announced a Mac app store for its computers and Mozilla announced a prototype of an open web ecosystem for its forthcoming app store.
What will the rapid growth of app stores mean for the open web? In some ways, the development pits applications against the World Wide Web itself. Mozilla is trying to create a decentralized app store platform. Apple has the quintessential closed app store platform. Google and Facebook's app platforms are somewhere in between.
In late 2010, the web does not equal Facebook, though the growth of the social networking giant into the most popular U.S. website shows how for many citizens, it has become an integral part of their online experience. But hyperlinks on the web still matter more than "hyperlikes" on Facebook, at least for the moment, and that's why the convergence of Google, government and privacy are of critical interest to all citizens.
The complexity of this environment is difficult for even the smartest technologists in the private sector to navigate, much less the relatively slow-moving institutions of government. As they work to apply the power of Web 2.0 to government, government officials will have to choose their investments carefully to avoid wasting taxpayer dollars in a technological deadpool. Tight budgets and limited resources mean those choices have to be smart ones.
The goals that public officials pursue when they create new .gov websites or applications should be based upon civic good. If that civic good is to be rendered to a population increasingly connected to one another through smartphones, tablets and cellphones, truly open governments will employ methods that provide access to all citizens, not just the privileged few.
- Pew Report: Citizens turning to Internet for government data, policy and services
- 10 Lessons for Gov 2.0 from Web 2.0
- Here come the healthcare apps
- Online privacy debates heat up in Washington
- Why HTML5 is worth your time
Saturday, 23 October 2010
At 5pm EST Friday 22nd October 2010 WikiLeaks released the largest classified military leak in history. The 391,832 reports ('The Iraq War Logs'), document the war and occupation in Iraq, from 1st January 2004 to 31st December 2009 (except for the months of May 2004 and March 2009) as told by soldiers in the United States Army. Each is a 'SIGACT' or Significant Action in the war. They detail events as seen and heard by the US military troops on the ground in Iraq and are the first real glimpse into the secret history of the war that the United States government has been privy to throughout.
The reports detail 109,032 deaths in Iraq, comprised of 66,081 'civilians'; 23,984 'enemy' (those labeled as insurgents); 15,196 'host nation' (Iraqi government forces) and 3,771 'friendly' (coalition forces). The majority of the deaths (66,000, over 60%) of these are civilian deaths.That is 31 civilians dying every day during the six year period. For comparison, the 'Afghan War Diaries', previously released by WikiLeaks, covering the same period, detail the deaths of some 20,000 people. Iraq during the same period, was five times as lethal with equivallent population size.
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WikiLeaks data shows U.S. failed to probe Iraqi abuse cases
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By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON | Fri Oct 22, 2010 10:36pm EDT(Reuters) - WikiLeaks released nearly 400,000 classified U.S. files on the Iraq war on Friday, some detailing gruesome cases of prisoner abuse by Iraqi forces that the U.S. military knew about but failed to investigate.
The Pentagon decried the website's publication of the secret reports -- the largest security breach of its kind in U.S. military history, far surpassing the group's dump of more than 70,000 Afghan war files in July.
U.S. officials said the leak endangered U.S. troops and had identified some 300 Iraqi collaborators who were now at risk.
WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange said the documents showed evidence of war crimes, but the Pentagon dismissed the files as "ground-level" field reports from a well-chronicled war with no big surprises.
"We deplore WikiLeaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world," Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary, said.
The Iraq war files touched on other themes, including well-known U.S. concerns about Iranian training and support for Iraqi militias. The documents, which spanned 2003 to 2009, also detailed 66,081 civilian deaths in the Iraqi conflict, WikiLeaks said.
Assange told Al Jazeera television that the documents had provided enough material for 40 wrongful killing lawsuits.
"There are reports of civilians being indiscriminately killed at checkpoints ... of Iraqi detainees being tortured by coalition forces, and of U.S. soldiers blowing up entire civilian buildings because of one suspected insurgent on the roof," WikiLeaks said in a statement.
Although the Iraq conflict has faded from U.S. public debate in recent years, the document dump threatens to revive memories of some of the most trying times in the war, including the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.
Media organizations given advanced access to the massive database -- 10 weeks in one case -- broadly concluded that the documents showed that U.S. forces had effectively turned a blind eye to torture and abuse of prisoners by Iraqi forces.
In one case, an Iraqi policeman shot a detainee in the leg. The suspect was whipped with a rod and hose across his back, cracking ribs, caused multiple lacerations and welts.
"The outcome: 'No further investigation,'" the Guardian wrote.
The documents also cited cases of rape and murder, including a video-taped execution of a detainee by Iraqi soldiers. That document can be seen here: here
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Dalai Lama brings star power to Rogers Centre
Brett Gundlock/National Post
The Dalai Lama at the Rogers Centre on Oct. 22 2010, in Toronto.
Adam McDowell October 22, 2010 – 7:14 pm
It has become commonplace to call the head of the Gelugpa Buddhist sect a rock star but in certain respects the comparison works.
Like, say, Van Halen, the Dalai Lama sends an advance technical road crew to apply meticulous oversight to preparations. Weeks ahead of the Tibetan leader’s speech at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, a team of monks from his monastery supervised the assembly and blessing of three four-metre-tall statues, as if fulfilling the world’s most exotic tour rider.
At 75, the Dalai Lama spends about six months a year on the road, speaking to groups big and small. The home of baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays rates as big.
Like a touring arena rock act, the Dalai Lama’s main event — a talk titled Human Approaches to World Peace — is preceded by local openers.
As more than 15,000 spectators streamed into the stadium Friday, Tibetan-Canadian youths performed traditional song-and-dance numbers in brightly dyed ethnic garb, swinging ukelele-like instruments in synchronized fashion à la ZZ Top.
Television personality Seamus O’Regan encouraged spectators to welcome His Holiness by waving Tibetan flags, available for a minimum $1 donation. Mr. O’Regan pointed out that flags were available at the concourse merchandise tables.
Anti-child labour activist Craig Kielburger delivered the introduction of His Holiness, calling the talk an “honour we are about to receive.” His voice breathy and his tone evangelistic, he promised, “I’m certain that you will never forget the words that you hear from him today.”
Except, to put it kindly, the Dalai Lama is not a strong orator in English. A translator helps him find the occasional word. In a halting manner and with sometimes interesting diversions, he explained how we can create peace if we look within and find that human nature is essentially peaceful.
Wearing a tennis visor in robe-matching maroon to shield his eyes from the stage lights, he asked audience members to consider human anatomy in deciding whether we are a predatory or co-operative being.
“Look at our teeth,” he said, seated in a throne-like chair placed about where second base would be in a baseball game. “Quite close to rabbits’ and sheep’s teeth, not tigers.… We are social animal. Each individual future rest on community.”
The Dalai Lama said we should feel compassion for, and pursue dialogue with, even the violent and the predatory. Even al-Qaeda. He reminded the audience that after Sept. 11, 2001 he said the West should listen to what Osama bin Laden wants from it. It is “not good to remain distant and criticize, and not listen,” he said.
Not once did the Dalai Lama mention China directly.
To the question of how to make peace, he gave the basic Buddhist answer: self-control. The peacemaker is one who possesses a “constant calm mind. Basic mental attitude is good mood.”
Afterwards, Torontonian Pat Rigby admitted she had some trouble following the speech. “His English, well …” She made a face. “But he realizes he’s not infallible.”
“I closed my eyes and relaxed and tried to feel what he was saying instead of listening, and that worked much better,” she said. “His whole message is compassion. The story he told is, you don’t have to accept someone’s actions, but you still have to be compassionate and respectful of them.”
All in all, Ms. Rigby left happy for having been in the Dalai Lama’s presence. “I wanted to feel it. You don’t get that on TV. I was immensely impressed.”
Halla Bereskow of St. Thomas, Ont., said she came seeking a message about Buddhism. Did the religious studies student at the University of Western Ontario come away with it? “Not entirely, because I think it’s such a wide audience, he can’t address a particular group.”
And yet she left content as well. “Coming to see the Dalai Lama was a special thing. He is Buddhism,” she said.
The Dalai Lama is preparing to enter a state of semi-retirement next March, after Tibetans-in-exile elect a new temporal leader. And, inevitably, an heir to the post will have to be selected one day. While dodging the question of whether he might be succeeded by a woman, Dalai Lama number 14 pointed to his face and joked, “This will be very attractive” in female form.
“I’m not the best Dalai Lama out of 14 — but also not the worst Dalai Lama,” he grinned just before standing up to exit stage left. “Also, quite popular Dalai Lama. Being popular Dalai Lama, is good, nice.”
Whatever reservations it may have harboured about the performance, the audience rewarded the smiling, waving and departing Tenzin Gyatso with a short but enthusiastic burst of applause, then promptly headed for the exits. The Dalai Lama may be looking forward to a future rebirth, but he doesn’t do the other kind of encore.
More from Adam McDowell
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Actor Randy Quaid and wife seek refugee status in Canada
Santa Barbara County California Sheriff's Department booking photos show actor Randy Quaid, left, and his wife, Evi. The two have reportedly been arrested in Vancouver for failing to appear at a California court date
Douglas Quan, Postmedia News · Friday, Oct. 22, 2010
VANCOUVER — Hollywood actor Randy Quaid and his wife, Evi, say they are seeking refugee status in Canada.
In a bizarre hearing in Vancouver on Friday, the pair — who were arrested a day earlier in Vancouver on outstanding U.S. warrants — told an Immigration and Refugee Board that the actor has had eight close friends murdered in recent years and they fear they could be next.
In a handwritten note, given by their lawyer to media, the couple said: “Yes we are requesting asylum from Hollywood ‘STAR WHACKERS.’”
It wasn’t immediately clear what the ‘Star Whackers’ reference meant, but a report in an online report from a U.S. newspaper said it was the name of an original song mentioned in one of the couple’s past U.S. court filings.
They were whisked into a detention-review hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board on Friday, past a cluster of reporters and photographers.
There, they said they feel they have been unfairly treated by the U.S. justice system. They promised they would appear at future hearings if released.
“I would not do anything to besmirch my reputation any further than it has been,” the actor said.
“I’m trying to do damage control.”
Added his wife:“I feel safe here.”
Vancouver police say they got a call for assistance on Thursday and while checking the identities of the pair — who turned out to be Quaid and his wife — authorities learned they were wanted on outstanding warrants.
Arrest warrants were issued for the couple after they reportedly failed to show up for a court hearing in Santa Barbara, California, on allegations they were squatting in the guest house of a home they once owned.
The formerly Oscar-nominated Quaid is best-known for his role as Cousin Eddie in the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies, but he has also held supporting roles in such Hollywood blockbusters as Brokeback Mountain, Kingpin and Independence Day.
Quaid and his wife say they entered Canada on Oct. 17, a day before bench warrants for their arrest were issued in the United States.
The Canada Border Services Agency argued at the detention review hearing that the pair should be kept in custody.
“Both are fugitives from justice,” said CBSA representative Jim Murray.
But Evi Quaid insisted they would not flee, if released.
“I say it in front of the world press,” she said.
Quaid’s arrest comes one day after Duane Chapman — better known as Dog the Bounty Hunter — threatened to come after the fugitive.
“I hope Randy Quaid and his wife are watching right now,” said Chapman, a reality TV star and bounty hunter, while appearing on the Lopez Tonight, a late-night TV show hosted by comedian George Lopez.
“We’re announcing that he has a chance to call these authorities to turn himself in,” Chapman said.
“At least do it for your wife and for how you were raised. If not, the Chapman family is coming after you.”
He said Quaid has been struggling lately and was not himself.
“We need to do, like, an intervention, Dog-style.”
In a basement computer center in Pittsburgh, a computer is beginning to learn like a human. NELL, the Never-Ending Language Learner, is a computer that scientists at Carnigie Mellon University, are teaching to read the internet and “learn” from the information.
In other words, NELL tries to extract not only facts, but relationships among facts; it looks for patterns in information. On the website, it is explained that NELL can learn from certain catagories like “Barack Obama” is a person and a politician. NELL ran without supervison for six months, but then the scientists stepped in to check on NELL’s progress.
They estimate that it was 71%, and now they use their feedback to help NELL become more accurate. For example, the NYT reported on an error NELL made: it couldn’t understand the word ‘cookies’ when applied to internet, and ended up deciding that Internet cookies were the kind of cookies you ate, which to me makes sense (who decided it should be called cookies, anyhow? I have to think it was some kind of nerdy in-joke).
“We are still trying to understand what causes it to become increasingly competent at reading some types of information, but less accurate over time for others. Beginning in June, 2010, we began periodic review sessions every few weeks in which we would spend about 5 minutes scanning each category and relation. During this 5 minutes, we determined whether NELL was learning to read it fairly correctly, and in case not, we labeled the most blatant errors in the knowledge base. NELL now uses this human feedback in its ongoing training process, along with its own self-labeled examples. In July, a spot test showed the average precision of the knowledge base was approximately 87% over all categories and relations. We continue to add new categories and relations to the ontology over time, as NELL continues learning to populate its growing knowledge base.”
Now, what could this mean for speech technology? As the NYT reports (and I guess, it’s fairly obvious) that this kind of technology could really improve natural language technology. In theory, you could have a ‘smarter’ system that is able to gather information in a new way. While I may have watched one too many episodes of Battlestar Galactica, and sometimes this kind of news makes me a bit twitchy, I can see how this kind of breakthrough could be potentially useful and, well, fascinating.
By Sonja Isger
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 5:24 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22, 2010
Posted: 10:07 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010
Fake pot: It's legal, is sold in gas stations and convenience stores everywhere, and to some it sounds pretty harmless with names like "Mr. Nice Guy" and "Spice."
But so called "synthetic marijuana" has left such a trail of emergency room visits and possibly even deaths in its wake that 10 states have banned it, four more are trying to and one local police officer is pleading with shopkeepers not to sell it until Florida lawmakers follow suit.
Lantana officer Nelson Berrios mentors dozens of children ages 11 to 21, but says it was his middle-school-age son who brought home the message:
"The kids at school are smoking fake pot they're buying at the gas station near school," Berrios recalls the boy saying at the dinner table not long ago.
Since then, Berrios has been Googling a lot. What is this stuff? Who sells it? What does it do to a person's brain?
At the same time, counselors in Palm Beach County's addiction recovery community say they have been asking similar questions, and the answers they and others are finding scare them.
Fake pot often comes in tea bag-sized packets, with labels in some cases that announce: "Not for human consumption."
It's sold by shopkeepers as incense. But it's not much of an air freshener. Instead, it's any one of a variety of herbal plants, sprayed with a chemical designed to mimic the active ingredient in pot: THC.
"I guarantee you it will not smell good in your house with this stuff burning," Berrios said.
And with other labeling such as "100 percent drug test safe," and its positioning on sales racks beside pipes and bongs, there's little doubt of its true purpose, he added.
It is sold for up to $30 for 3 grams, a higher price than the real deal, and completely legal and impossible to detect on a traditional drug urine test.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers has fielded 1,670 calls this year from emergency room doctors and panicked members of the public over the substance.
That's up from 14 in 2009. But synthetic marijuana wasn't even on the organization's radar until last fall, so it's not a perfect comparison, said the group's spokeswoman Jessica Wehrman.
Still, she added, it's indicative of the drug's skyrocketing popularity during the past year.
Hanley Center's heads-up
Earlier this week, the Hanley Center in West Palm Beach invited school teachers, drug counselors and medical professionals to an hourlong talk to give many of them their first lesson on the fake marijuana, which often acts on a person in a way that is nothing like the well-known weed.
Marijuana highs are often associated with sleepiness, perhaps paranoia, but the symptoms poison control authorities report hearing about the synthetic version include dizziness, nausea, agitation, abnormally fast heartbeat and hallucinations. Some patients are in a coma, others have heart dysrhythmia .
News accounts tentatively link some form of fake pot to the deaths of at least three teens - one each in Texas, Wisconsin and Iowa. Parents in one of the deaths say their child was high on the drug when he made a fatal mistake behind the wheel of a car. The family of another claims he shot himself after smoking it.
No deaths have been linked to fake pot in Florida, but poison control officials say they're averaging one call per week, mostly from hospital ERs, said Wendy Stephan, health education coordinator at the Florida Poison Information Center at the University of Miami.
Five calls so far this year have come from Palm Beach County, Stephan said. The big source of complaints: Mr. Nice Guy .
So what's in Mr. Nice Guy? No ingredients are listed, but the recipe for all synthetic marijuana is similar (and peddled on a variety of websites).
Of course, there's a plant involved, but any of several will do. The part that delivers the high is sprayed on the plant and can come from several compounds, such as JWH-018.
JWH-018 was created by an undergraduate student in a Clemson University laboratory in the summer of 1995, reports research Professor John W. Huffman.
It was created not to get thousands of people stoned, but to "investigate the biological effects of compounds with biology similar to marijuana," Huffman said.
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Courage is contagious.
Friday, 22 October 2010
Posted at: 10/22/2010 5:36 PM
By JACOB KUSHNER
Email to a Friend
Cholera epidemic spreads in rural Haiti; 142 dead
(AP) ST. MARC, Haiti - A cholera epidemic was spreading in central Haiti on Friday as aid groups rushed doctors and supplies to fight the country’s deadliest health crisis since January’s earthquake. At least 142 people have died and more than 1,000 others were ill.
The first two cases of the disease outside the rural Artibonite region were confirmed in Arcahaie, a town in the same administrative region as the quake-devastated capital, Port-au-Prince.
Officials are concerned it could reach the squalid tarp camps where hundreds of thousands of quake survivors live in the capital.
"It will be very, very dangerous," said Claude Surena, president of the Haitian Medical Association. "Port-au-Prince already has more than 2.4 million people, and the way they are living is dangerous enough already."
Scores of patients lay on the floor awaiting treatment at the St. Nicholas hospital in the seaside city of St. Marc, some of them brushing away flies on mattresses stained with human feces.
One of them, 55-year-old Jille Sanatus, had been there since Thursday night since his son Jordany brought him. A doctor was struggling to stick a needle into his arm.
"He’s completely dehydrated, so it’s difficult. It’s hard to find the vein," said Dr. Roasana Casimir, who had been working nearly without rest since the outbreak began two days earlier.
Casimir finally penetrated the vein and fluid from an IV bag began to trickle in, but half an hour later the father of 10 was dead. Two hospital employees carried the body to the morgue behind the hospital and placed it on the ground for the family to reclaim it for a funeral.
Sanatus’ son said the family had been drinking water from a river running down from the central plateau region. Health Minister Alex Larsen said Friday that the river tested positive for cholera.
Imogen Wall, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the sick patients and the contagious remains of the dead are insufficiently quarantined.
"Part of the problem has been people are moving around a lot, and there hasn’t been proper isolation in place at the clinics," she said.
The sick come from across the desolate Artibonite Valley, a region that received thousands of refugees following the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 people and destroyed the capital 45 miles (70 kilometers) south of St. Marc. Most of the new arrivals have been taken in by host families.
Cholera was not present in Haiti before the earthquake, but experts have warned that conditions are ripe for disease to strike in areas with limited access to clean water.
"You cannot say it is because of the earthquake, but because of the earthquake the situation here requires a high level of attention in case the epidemic extends," said Michel Thieren, a program officer for the Pan-American Health Organization.
Cholera is a bacterial infection spread through contaminated water. It causes severe diarrhea and vomiting that can lead to dehydration and death within hours.
Larsen, the health minister, urged anyone suffering diarrhea to make their own rehydration serum out of salt, sugar and water to drink on the way to a hospital.
The U.N.’s No. 2 humanitarian official said officials could not yet explain exactly how the outbreak occurred, or when it might end.
"I cannot say that it is under control," Catherine Bragg, the U.N.’s assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. "Cholera deaths are preventable, and we’re doing everything we can. However, clearly a lot more needs to be done."
The number of cases will continue to grow because Haitians do not have any built-up immunity to cholera, according to Jon Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization’s Regional Office for the Americas, which is sending medical teams to the neighboring Dominican Republic as a preventive measure.
"We have all the things in place for something we know will get bigger," Andrus said.
Health Ministry director Gabriel Thimothe said at least 142 people died and more than 1,000 were hospitalized.
Aid groups and the government were rushing in medical and relief supplies including 10,000 boxes of water purification tablets and 2,500 jerrycans, according to the World Health Organization.
Wall said some 300,000 courses of antibiotics were available in the country and were being prepared for use in the Artibonite.
Associated Press writers Mike Melia and Danica Coto contributed to this report from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
The Women's Budget Group ( WBG ) is an independent organisation bringing together individuals from academia, non-governmental organisations and trades unions to promote gender equality through appropriate economic policy.
In all our work, we ask the question: 'Where do resources go, and what impact does resource allocation have on gender equality?' The impact that government expenditure can have on women's everyday lives, especially women experiencing poverty, is of particular concern to us.
The WBG aims to not only encourage, but assist the government in using gender analysis to improve its economic policy making. The WBG also advocates specific policies. The work of the WBG is focussed at the UK level, but it has links with a group that has a similar aim for Scotland, and with both NGOs and intergovernmental organisations that promote gender budgeting internationally.
Who we are
Fawcett is the UK’s leading campaign for equality between women and men. We trace our roots back to 1866, when Millicent Garrett Fawcett began her lifetime’s work leading the peaceful campaign for women’s votes. We are a charity, registered in England no: 1108769 and company limited by guarantee no 4600514.
What we believe in
Our vision is of a society in which women and men enjoy equality at work, at home and in public life.
We campaign on women’s representation in politics and public life; on equal pay, on pensions and poverty; valuing caring work; and the treatment of women in the justice system.
What we do
We make real differences in women’s lives by creating awareness, leading debate and driving change. Our lobbying power means we have real influence right at the top of UK politics and among those who make decisions.
Our successes range from a change in the law to allow political parties to use all-women shortlists to increase the number of women MPs, to a new, fairer system for appointing judges, to a new duty on public bodies to promote equality between women and men.
How you can help
Be part of our campaign! As a campaigning charity, we are always in need of financial support and you can give this by joining or donating to Fawcett. To join, donate or get involved click on one of the links on the right hand side of this page.
Yvette Cooper – 'intensely numerate'. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
This summer the government found itself in a fix that had never confronted a government before. Budgets are sacrosanct; nobody had ever tried to take a government to court over its budget, still less for a sexist budget – until that day. The Treasury is reported to have been stunned when the feminist Fawcett Society put in an application for a judicial review of its apparent failure to honour its legal duty under the Equality Act to give "due regard" to the impact on women.
The action followed an emergency budget that proposed an initial deficit reduction strategy of tax and benefit changes. Even before the projected 500,000 public sector job cuts (mainly affecting women) were announced, it was clear that women would be the biggest victims.
Nearly three months later, the government has admitted to the Guardian it did "not hold an Equality Impact Assessment for the June 2010 budget". The Fawcett Society continues to wait to see if a judicial review will be granted while it absorbs the details of yesterday's comprehensive spending review.
The legal case centres on the 2006 Equality Act, which imposed a legal duty on governments and public bodies to give "due regard" to the impact on women of all their policies and services, to promote gender equality and to mitigate policies and practices that will have an adverse effect on women. The novelty of the act is that it shifts responsibility from individuals to the state. It puts the onus on public authorities to be proactive in promoting equality.
Until last August, the law had been barely understood, only occasionally tested in the courts and never used to call a government to account for its budget.
A legal expert on equality explained: "The greater the importance, the greater the duty to give due regard. The macro level is the most important level, it affects every other conceivable level. If not the budget, then what?'
The June budget and the predicted heavy cuts in this week's spending review created "a perfect storm", says Fawcett Society chief executive Ceri Goddard, confirming suspicions among many that 2010 was going to be a uniquely regressive moment in the history of sexism and the state.
The perceived draconian nature of the June budget propelled into action the Fawcett Society; a group of politicians (including some parliamentarians who had helped to script the law); lawyers including Karon Monaghan QC, a special adviser to a Treasury select committee, and the forensic solicitor Samantha Mangwana; and the Women's Budget Group, a hub of economics and social science professors.
In the last decade, the Fawcett Society, operating with a small staff in a modest office in Clerkenwell, London, has become a potent campaigner. Goddard, a fast–talking human rights advocate, had only been appointed for a few months when the election and the budget started to consume her waking hours.
The society had canvassed all the party leaders before the general election in May: "Nick Clegg gave us a personal assurance that should he be elected, he'd consider gender impact assessment of the budget," says Goddard.
Labour's Harriet Harman pledged to conduct a gender audit, while "the Conservatives didn't answer our question" but promised to consider "the most vulnerable".
But the first intimations from the coalition, "formed by a collective of men", were worrying and Goddard detected "something more insidious" – the fiscal crisis as a cover for restructuring the state and a more traditional view of women's roles.
Three weeks after the election, Theresa May, the new minister for women and equality, called the Fawcett Society. She was reminded of the society's worries about the impact of public spending cuts on women and "acknowledged our concerns".
The Government Equalities Office made all departments aware of their equality duties. May herself wrote to the chancellor and the prime minister on 9 June warning that the proposed cuts – yet to be announced – could breach the government' s legal duty to promote equality. According to a letter leaked to the Guardian she said that the cuts would pose "real risks that women, ethnic minorities, disabled people will be disproportionately affected" and therefore might attract a successful legal challenge against the government. "Desperate times don't mean the law gets a day off," says Goddard.
At a 17 June meeting of senior stakeholders, including civil servants and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), ministers were reminded again. The Liberal Democrat home office minister Lynne Featherstone told the Fawcett Society she would be "really robust in reminding our colleagues in other departments to do their duty".
Meanwhile, in parliament, Yvette Cooper who, when Labour was in power, had become the first woman chief secretary to the Treasury in 2008, opened the Red Book – the detailed budget statistics. Already, Cooper reckoned, the threat to women was palpable: "You could smell it and feel it." But she needed hard evidence.
"In government you can commission research. You say to somebody: 'Do me an analysis of . . .' but out of government we don't have that. So I tried to work out how to calculate the impact. I had my calculator and my computer and I carried the Red Book everywhere." Her parliamentary collaborator Fiona Mactaggart describes Cooper as "intensely numerate".
Thumbing the pages listing the £120bn retrenchment proposed over five years, Cooper "looked at every item, literally", and calculated the impact of each item on men and women. It was bad. Cooper, Mactaggart and former solicitor general Vera Baird (by now out of the Commons and setting up the Astraea Institute, a centre for justice for women), discussed the figures and Baird checked out the law and lawyers.
Cooper finessed questions that needed more complex answers and took them to the impeccably neutral House of Commons Library. When the sums came back, she was "surprised". The burden shouldered "by women taxpayers was 72%". And that was before this week's welfare state cuts. Underlying the government's thinking seemed to be a traditional view of the family as a "private sphere from which the state should withdraw".
"What Yvette Cooper did was so clever and so simple," says Professor Susan Himmelweit, a Women's Budget Group founder member. "She cut through smoke and mirrors, just looked at the money and the direct impact of taxes and benefits."
Cooper felt strongly that what was at stake was women's "costs and choices" – their autonomy. The consequences were not only unequally balanced between men and women, they were "withdrawing choices from women".
The conventional wisdom that things would always get easier for women suddenly stalled. "For the first time," she said, "I started to worry – what does this mean for my daughters?"
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) – another unimpeachable source – was impressed by Cooper's figures. "Numbers always help, big numbers are powerful," says IFS benefits expert Mike Brewer. "I was surprised by the scale of the difference between men and women. It was stark." To Baird the June budget figures were so alarming that "it seemed inevitable that the Treasury had not done an Equality Impact Assessment". And if not, "that's unlawful. It makes the decisions invalid."
It was no defence to claim that the impact on families, if not women, had been measured. Ministers had already been through those arguments with the Treasury over pensions and child benefits. And during the last decade the Women's Budget Group had drawn the Treasury's attention to the need to assess the impact on women.
Although civil servants describe the Treasury as "hostile" to gender budgeting, the Treasury's own equality scheme published on 30 April 2007 declares: "We aim to make sure that promoting gender equality is integrated fully into the way the Treasury carries out its relevant functions." In its "statement of commitment" it says that its role in "regulating financial markets is bound by the General Duty on Gender".
Budgets will "fully" report on "analysis of the impact of economic and fiscal policy on women . . . encompassing actively the duty to promote equality".
But when Green MP Caroline Lucas – one of the three women in the House of Commons representing independent parties – asked chancellor George Osborne in July whether his department undertook an equalities impact assessment of the budget, he fudged: "I shall let the honourable member have a reply as soon as possible."
"A simple yes or no would have done," commented Lucas.
When I asked the Treasury in July whether it had carried out an equality impact assessment, a spokesman insisted that it had. Where was it published? On the website, said the Treasury. No, it isn't, I replied.
A month later the Treasury sent me a Freedom of Information Act response admitting there had been no Equality Impact Assessment, and adding: "It would not be possible to conduct an Equality Impact Assessment over this broad range of measures."
So it hadn't done it.
Last month, the Treasury missed the official court deadline to respond to the claims under the Equality Act about the June budget.
But this week we witnessed a small revolution: the Treasury did publish an Equality Impact Assessment of the spending review. "They have recognised the duty to consider macro-economic policy," commented a legal expert. "That is a shift from its historic line."
Goddard says: "We are pleased that our action has provided a wakeup call that the Treasury is not above the law on equalities matters, regardless of the economic situation we are in."
But the assessment "is only partial and almost flippant in its lack of detail. The Treasury has explicitly chosen not to undertake any detailed consideration of the impact of benefit cuts, job losses or the slashed local authority budget – the three areas the Fawcett Society identified as particularly harmful to women's future economic independence and financial security."
So, the ongoing legal challenge and political calumny has already had an effect. "This is definitely a win," says Goddard. But the wider battle for the judicial review continues.
The headline and standfirst of this article were amended on 22 October 2010. The original headline suggested that Yvette Cooper was involved in the legal challenge to the budget, which is not the case.
Climate change: Is this what the future will look like?
Adam McDowell October 6, 2010 – 9:23 am
Canadians got a look at one vision of how climate change could affect regions across the country, as the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy yesterday released its Degrees of Change diagram. Intended for use in 12,000 Canadian schools, it may mostly depress tomorrow’s leaders with its (often vague and speculative) predictions. However, its call for adaptation for “climate prosperity” also includes some bright sides, including longer crop seasons and better golf weather. Some of the scenarios are based on a warm-up of as much as five degrees:
On the negative side Citing studies from 2005 and 2009, the Degrees of Change report predicts that in a world a little more than two degrees hotter than today’s, summer western wildfires will engulf areas of two to four times current blazes.
On the positive side “Climate change could … contribute to an increase in global timber output as forests become more productive.” The scenario imagines northern spruce forests taking the place of southern forests that burn, get eaten by beetles or die in other ways. However, it’s not certain that the Canadian lumber industry would benefit overall. “This scenario would ultimately drive down prices and reduce Canada’s share of the timber trade, while consumers would enjoy lower prices for wood products.”
LAUNCH OF DAW’S 2011 ONE ACT PLAYWRITING COMPETITION
On the 18th October, the DRAMA ASSOCIATION OF WALES (DAW) will be launching its Playwriting Competition for one act plays 2011. The competition aims to encourage the writing of plays for amateur theatre in English and Welsh. In addition to cash awards, prize-winning plays will be considered for publication. Previous prizewinners have been published and performed as a result of promotion through our New Writing Scheme.
THE WINNING PLAY IN EACH CATEGORY
WILL RECEIVE A CASH PRIZE OF £250
AND WILL BE CONSIDERED FOR PUBLICATION
PLAYING TIME: 20-50 MINS – A MINIMUM CAST OF TWO
An Adjudicating Panel appointed by the Drama Association of Wales will read and consider the plays entered into the Competition and will award the following prizes:
- Best Play for a Youth Cast (16-25 years) – £250
- Best Play in the Open Category – £250
- Best Play in the Welsh Language – £250
- plus commemorative Prizewinners Medals
- The above plays will be considered for publication by DAW Publications
- The Best Play from a Wales Based Playwright will be awarded a bursary to Tŷ Newydd, the National Writers’ Centre for Wales
NEW TO THIS YEAR’S COMPETITION!!
If you would like to make use of DAW’s Script Reading Service whilst your play is with us, please remit £30.00 as the combined price of both competition entry – £12.50 and Script Reading Service – £17.50.
For application forms, please contact Teresa at the Drama Association of Wales (DAW) on Cardiff +44 (0) 29 2045 2200 or
The competition is held to promote the writing of One Act plays in English and Welsh. The closing date for entries to the competition is 31st January 2011.
THE COMPETITION IS OPEN TO EVERYONE. DON’T BE DISCOURAGED FROM ENTERING IF YOU LIVE OUTSIDE WALES – WE RECEIVE ENTRIES FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD