Posts Tagged ‘President Bush’

Obama: Let the Sunlight In!

August 5, 2009

It appears to be an inherent risk of the presidential office that its occupants prefer to avoid public accountability for their actions. President Eisenhower coined the term “executive privilege” to avoid revealing government information to Congress and the public. Bill Moyers recalled that President Johnson so despised the ramifications of the Freedom of Information Act that “LBJ had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony,” and threatened a pocket veto. Nixon was notoriously secretive, often deliberately keeping members of his administration out of the loop, and vigorously opposed the publication of the Pentagon Papers and the release of the white house papers and recordings. The policy of the Reagan administration was to classify information at the highest level possible (a reversal of Carter’s policy to classify information as low as possible). Reagan also issued Executive Order 12356, increasing the longevity of information classification, and advocated the Freedom of Information Reform Act of 1986, restricting the original FOIA. While some administrations have been more forthcoming than those—the Carter and Clinton administrations both acknowledged to have taken steps towards greater transparency and access—Phillip Melanson notes in Secrecy Wars: National Security, Privacy, and the Publics Right to Know that virtually all presidential administrations have resisted full compliance with the FOIA and public accountability.

The recent Bush administrations hardly broke that mold. Denying the public information on key meetings on energy policy in which energy industry executives participated; covering up executive actions regarding detention, torture, and public wiretapping; attempting to keep presidential records private indefinitely with Executive Order 13233; administration memoranda encouraging bureaucratic obstruction to confound FOIA requests; a vice president who insisted he was exempt from accountability because he supposedly outside all three branches of government: They seemed to have a absolute passion for secrecy (excepting, of course, when it came to releasing classified identities for political purposes)—not particularly surprising given the illicit nature of their agenda.

Obama made quite a point of transparency during his presidential campaign, as a contrast to the Bush administration. Early in his administration Obama issued a memorandum about “transparency, public participation, and collaboration.” During his short term in office, is he on track to produce the change he promised?

Early results are not encouraging. I suppose one might forgive the administration for declining to release the FBI interview with Dick Cheney regarding the Valerie Plame incident. While I’d prefer to see the key members of the previous administration held to full account for their misdeeds, perhaps Obama is sincerely trying to avoid the appearance of partisanship by protecting Cheney from “embarrassment,” or believes that a Gerald Ford strategy of letting bygones be bygones and moving on is the best way for the nation to get over the past eight years.

But the Obama administration has also adopted the Bush administration’s policy on secret wiretapping. In a strange case of deja vu, Obama is refusing to release information on administration an energy policy meeting with coal executives. And most recently, he has denied an FOIA request for information related to meetings with health care industry executives. Obama’s repeated rebuff of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and his general reticence to live up to his memorandum show a distressing lack of concern or understanding for the change we needed.

Whether you take Obama to be the messiah or a commie-muslim-criminal mastermind is irrelevant. Government secrecy is dangerous to the nation irrespective of which party or what person is in power. Sunlight is the best protection against even the potential for corruption. Our democratic republic can only function effectively to the extent that the public has access to the data necessary to make informed judgments and hold our government representatives accountable. If Obama thinks we should simply trust him because of his integrity and of his commitment to change, then he is not the agent of change he claims to be.

President Bush Deregulates Coal Mining Debris Disposal

December 13, 2008

Despite what the headlines seem to suggest, President Bush is not yet inconsequential. His executive powers are maintained for another few weeks, and like the last several of his predecessors, he is spending that time issuing eleventh hour executive orders and regulatory changes. Among the most distressing of the changes is one which lifts many restrictions on the disposal of mining waste. In truth the rules regulating that disposal have widely been ignored for years. Lifting those restrictions will allow mining operators even greater freedom to dump their mining refuse into nearby streams and valleys. Mining runoff contains high levels of selenium and other hazardous chemicals, which threatens not only local fish and wildlife, but the local communities.

Deregulation has always been a central tenet of conventional free market theory as a means to maintain freedom for society. The argument is in theory very persuasive. Why is it that in practice deregulation so often means keeping producers free to pass off the true costs of their production onto others; free contaminate the private property and health of the less powerful, as well as the public property on which we all rely, in their pursuit of profit? So much for the people downstream being “free to choose.”

The Iraq Status of Forces Negotiations: Exposing the Republican Lie

June 19, 2008

For five years now, Republicans high and low have scoffed at the Iraq War skeptics. They’ve routinely protested any suggestion that the conquest had anything to do with oil or empire. This is a war of liberation, an act of benevolence to free an oppressed people, a noble act to spread Democracy. The regrettable use of military force was necessary, but was merely temporary. Our forces will be removed as soon as the legitimate government of Iraq no longer needed or wanted our services.

Variously naive and duplicitous, these assurances have been proven wrong. We now know that the Bush administration has been in negotiations for a new Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, one which would permit U.S. forces to maintain dozens of indefinite-term military bases, control of Iraqi airspace, carte blanche to pursue military operations, and immunity from Iraqi law for not only members of the U.S. military, but U.S. contractors.

That is not a mutual aid agreement between sovereign nations. That is a pact turning Iraq into a client state of the U.S.

Yes, the conservatives insist that the bases are intended to be temporary. The bases in Saudi Arabia established during Gulf War I were supposedly temporary as well. So was Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, but the idea that this sprawling, expensive base will be dismantled anytime soon is rather absurd. As Chalmers Johnson pointed out in his book The Sorrows of Empire, its network of military bases is a primary means by which the U.S. stretches its influence and exerts political pressure on nations throughout the world. This is nothing more than the neo-imperialism practiced by the U.S. for the better part of a century.

You don’t think the war had anything to do with petroleum? I have a hard time believing that the administration didn’t see potential of leveraging the influence of long-term military bases to help assure the pipeline to the U.S.

And what of the desires of the legitimate government in Iraq? They find the U.S. demands to be unacceptable.

We have reached an impasse, because when we opened these negotiations we did not realise that the US demands would so deeply affect Iraqi sovereignty and this is something we can never accept (Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki, from “Impasse in US-Iraqi forces talks,” BBC)

It reminds me a great deal of the agreement between the U.S. and Cuba after the Spanish-American War. Cuba, now “liberated” from Spain, was required to grant the U.S. military bases (of which Guantanamo is a remnant), exempt U.S. entities from Cuban law, and even permit the U.S. government a veto over the Cuban legislature. Some liberation.

It is worth considering that the hubris of the U.S. and their insistence that Cuba become a vassal played a very key role in the resentment which ultimately enabled a meglomaniacal dictator to lead an uprising and defy the U.S. for almost half a century now.

Time for the conservatives to face facts and or own up to the lies. There are clearly ulterior motives at play—motives which must be terminated. The Middle-East is explosive enough right now without pouring more gasoline on the fire.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.