Michael Isikoff writes in Newsweek about an Obama Administration stance on revealing which bigwig execs visit the White House on business. The problem is that Obama’s lack of transparency in responding to a FOIA request regarding coal company executives resembles the stonewalling secrecy of the Bush Administration’s handling of similar requests.
As an Obama supporter and Obama voter I am equally elated and dismayed. In the case of energy policy, I’m elated we have a President who seems to be finally making the connection between our dependence on oil – foreign and otherwise – and environmental and national security issues. I’m dismayed by Obama’s refusal to honor public interest groups’ requests to know what coal companies are lobbying the White House on “clean coal” initiatives. The jury is out on the feasibility of clean coal technology and its practicality. As an Ohioan I want to support the coal industry. As an American concerned about pollution, greenhouse gases and the affordability of electricity I want to know more about where the federal government intends to invest clean coal funding and what to expect as a return on investment. As a cynic, I want to know what big spenders – be they coal companies or the Sierra Club – are attempting to game the political system.
Fact Checking Obama Administration’s Report on Stimulus
For all of you who think traditional journalism is dead or would be happy to see it die, the Associated Press reminds us tonight what the watchdog is all about.
Vice President Joe Biden released a report today regarding progress made with funds from the recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – the stimulus bill. I looked at it. It’s pretty weak beer.
Here’s part of what the Associated Press wrote tonight:
But the effect of that spending is less clear. Many of the claims the White House is making are based on anecdotes selected to fit the Obama administration’s message. For instance, the report cites a newspaper article about workers being rehired at a factory in Chicago. That account is true, but is no more an accurate snapshot of the nation’s economy than a story, not cited in the report, about a Roanoke, Va., railcar factory closing. (Read More)
The Obama Administration report also says that 150,000 jobs have been saved or created. How could one even begin to get to a number like that so soon? The report doesn’t mention – but the AP does – that since February the nation has lost 1.3 million jobs.
President Obama is not well served by flooding the Internets and airwaves with pablum. Every time you turn around there’s another “.gov” site out there promising real information and transparency. What we get instead is messaging wrapped in slick graphics. Everything seems to be a mile wide but an inch deep.
I had high hopes for an information presidency, what we’ve gotten instead is the Ronald Reagan communications team with better technology.
There is a lot of good going on with this Administration. Creating bullshit, releasing it and then patting yourself on the back for being “transparent” is not in the category of good. It’s in the category of annoying.
The Washington Times reports on a hearing regarding the Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board, by the House panel with oversight of the body set up by the recently enacted stimulus bill to ensure $787 billion in stimulus funds are spent wisely.
The problem is most of our elected representatives didn’t bother to show up to do their jobs – stay informed about the work of the accountability board so they can adjust policy if need be.
Congressional slackers included:
- Democratic Reps. Steven R. Rothman of New Jersey, Lincoln Davis of Tennessee, Charles A. Wilson of Ohio, Alan Grayson of Florida and Bart Gordon of Tennessee.
- Republican Rep. Ralph M. Hall of Texas also skipped the session, while Rep. Brian P. Bilbray of California showed up for one third of the meeting.
With all of the sound and fury over the stimulus bill is it too much to ask from members of Congress to go to “important” hearings? I know there are some hearings that they cannot attend due to votes or other hearings, but we’re talking about the largest value bill ever passed.
It’s insulting to the public servants on the transparency board who no doubt were there to deliver testimony to empty chairs.
Finally, to the Democrats, if we’re serious about our way forward out of this recession, let’s act like it. While President Obama’s efforts at greater transparency and accountability are being recognized as “change,” you folks are shirking your responsibility to forward that agenda.
Admiral Dennis C. Blair, White House Intelligence Director, told colleagues in a memo last week that some Bush era torture techniques did produce information helpful in the nation’s fight against terrorism, according to a story tonight on the New York Times website.
This is interesting for two reasons. The first is obvious – Blair’s analysis could be construed as detracting from the Obama Administration’s stance on torture and the contents of the Bush Administration memos it has released. Today, Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs summed up the current versus former administration’s positions in his daily briefing when asked about former Vice President Dick Cheney’s latest shots across the bow:
Q Okay, last point is Vice President Cheney saying he’s disturbed by all of this.
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, I — we’ve had a at least two-year policy disagreement with the Vice President of the United States of America. That policy disagreement is whether or not you can uphold the values in which this country was founded at the same time that you protect the citizens that live in that country. The President of the United States and this administration believes that you can. The Vice President has come to, in our opinion, a different conclusion.
The second reason for interest tonight is disturbing for those of us who voted for and count ourselves as Obama supporters. It appears that one of two things happened with regard to making Blair’s memo public. Either, a) a reporter found out about and requested a copy of the document; or, b) the Administration decided to proactively release it. Whether A or B, here’s the rub. The White House Press Office changed it. What was released, was not what was written. It’s even more troubling if it was changed after a request for a public document was made by the media. Since Blair is involved in national security and intelligence wouldn’t it have been easier to call the memo classified? Instead, it appears a lie was perpetrated.
From the Times story:
Admiral Blair’s assessment that the interrogation methods did produce important information was deleted from a condensed version of his memo released to the media last Thursday. Also deleted was a line in which he empathized with his predecessors who originally approved some of the harsh tactics after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past,” he wrote, “but I do not fault those who made the decisions at that time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given.”
A spokeswoman for Admiral Blair said the lines were cut in the normal editing process of shortening an internal memo into a media statement.
What all reasonable people want from their government is the unvarnished truth. I can understand a public official – even more the president – not wanting to air staff work. What counts the most is the final policy. But, if that staff work is to be released, it should be accurate and not sanitized.
It’s obvious that this Administration is as message driven and communications savvy as any. What I hope does not happen is that this Administration begins obscuring the truth and lying to Americans to preserve the message.
According to Reuters, not only is the U.S. Treasury Dept. holding off on release of bank stress tests due to earnings season, the government department may not release institution-specific data at all. One of the many factors leading to the current financial crisis was a lack of transparency in financial markets. If these institutions are publicly traded, and if they’ve taken tax dollar funded bailouts, the data needs to be available to anyone who wishes to see it.
The U.S. Treasury Department is planning to delay the release of any completed bank stress test results until after the first-quarter earnings season to avoid complicating stock market reaction, a source familiar with Treasury’s discussions said on Tuesday.
The Treasury is still talking about how results of the regulatory stress tests on the 19 largest U.S. banks will be released, and may disclose them as summary results that are not institution-specific, the source said.
The government is testing how the largest banks would fare under more adverse economic conditions than are expected in an attempt to assess the firms’ capital needs. The tests are due to be completed by the end of April, but Treasury has said they may be finished before then.
The source, speaking anonymously because the Treasury has not made a final decision on what to disclose, said officials do not want any test results released before the earnings season wraps up for most U.S. banks on April 24.