January, 2009

Jan 09


I’m still getting used to the rhythms of our new government — the pace of the first two weeks has been amazing. Not without stumbles, but I’m incredibly encouraged. In particular, I find that I follow and read Obama’s Executive Orders and Presidential Memoranda every day or two.

The fact that they’re available (and easy to find) along with a lot of other information on whitehouse.gov is fantastic and incredibly meaningful. But the content is also incredible so far, and in particular one specific memo titled “Freedom of Information Act“.

It is a beautiful and clear piece of writing, and states some incredibly important principles of operation and standards of behavior that I hope our agencies can live up to. The memo speaks for itself, so I’ll quote several passages at some length.

“A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.”

And the absolute most important line: “The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.”

This could not be clearer, and is a monumental step. And then he pushes everyone to go further than they’re required by law:

“All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government.  The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.

The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.”
Really, I couldn’t be prouder of our government for this, or more hopeful.

Jan 09

American, Abroad

It is about 1000 times happier traveling as an American this year than it has been in the past 6 or so. I feel like we’re all still getting used to the new administration — and it’s clear that the rest of the world is, too. Here in Europe, I found people to be very curious about the new government, and sort of blown away, in particular, by the level of engagement and openness and participation that Obama’s team has put in place so quickly. I heard, more than one time, that there was no other place in the world where something like this would have happened quite this way — not just in the sense of electing a minority candidate, but more in the sense of the speed in which our government is working to give control back to the people.

There’s a lot of road left to travel yet — they’ve barely started — but already it’s clear that people everywhere are watching & thinking, and are ready to give Obama — and by extension Americans — some benefit of the doubt again.

Jan 09

The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov

As I mentioned, the Robot books by Asimov are comfort reading for me — have read them a bunch of times, they never get old. And The Naked Sun is my favorite of them. It’s about a murder on a planet where human contact is incredibly limited — a sci-fi twist on a locked-room mystery. Fun book; will read it again, no doubt.

Jan 09

RConversation on changing the administration’s China frame

RConversation: Dear President Obama: in talking to China, remember its people.

One of my favorite & most thoughtful writers on China writes a great framing piece for the new administration. Great suggestions. One of a few areas that have made me uneasy in the new administration’s work the last couple of weeks. (Although as James Fallows points out, Secretary Clinton already has adjusted and made great strides.)

Jan 09

Lessons from Mozilla talk at Heise

Here’s the talk I gave today at Heise in Nuremberg. Good attendance, good participation.

7 Lessons from Mozilla

View more presentations or upload your own. (tags: mozilla heise)