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Currently viewing the tag: "Transparency"

Check out this must-read post by a State Department worker who’s written a scathing book about our reconstruction boondoggle in Iraq — and is now being persecuted by the same State Department who claims to fight for the rights of bloggers (in far-away lands, natch) to report on the evils of their own regimes:

On the same day that more than 250,000 unredacted State Department cables hemorrhaged out onto the Internet, I was interrogated for the first time in my 23-year State Department career by State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and told I was under investigation for allegedly disclosing classified information. The evidence of my crime? A posting on my blog from the previous month that included a link to a WikiLeaks document already available elsewhere on the Web.

As we sat in a small, gray, windowless room, resplendent with a two-way mirror, multiple ceiling-mounted cameras, and iron rungs on the table to which handcuffs could be attached, the two DS agents stated that the inclusion of that link amounted to disclosing classified material. In other words, a link to a document posted by who-knows-who on a public website available at this moment to anyone in the world was the legal equivalent of me stealing a Top Secret report, hiding it under my coat, and passing it to a Chinese spy in a dark alley.


These are not people steeped in, or particularly appreciative of, the finer points of irony.  Still, would anyone claim that there isn’t irony in the way the State Department regularly crusades for the rights of bloggers abroad in the face of all kinds of government oppression, crediting their voices for the Arab Spring, while going after one of its own bloggers at home for saying nothing that wasn’t truthful?


Gee, what a surprise.

The Big Tough Daddies in government whined and cried for weeks on end about how Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has brought ruin – RUIN! – to American diplomacy.

They ran to their loyal stenographers in the D.C. press corps and did verily catch the overwhelming vapors, rose up into tears and telegenic hysteria, and finally dropped to their knees, rent the threads of their garments asunder in righteous fury, and denounced Assange as a most despicable and deleterious scourge of a man – a Traitor! that must be summarily assassinated by the U.S. military without resort to the petty grievances that a trial court might deign to so offensively proffer to stop the extinguishment of Hitler Assange from the face of all of Western Christendom!!

Well, guess what?

The damage caused by the WikiLeaks controversy has caused little real and lasting damage to American diplomacy, senior state department officials have concluded.

It emerged in private briefings to Congress by top diplomats that the fallout from the release of thousands of private diplomatic cables from all over the globe has not been especially bad.

This is in direct opposition to the official stance of the White House and the US government which has been vocal in condemning the whistle-blowing organisation and seeking to bring its founder, Julian Assange, to trial in the US.

Oops.  You have one guess as to where we learned this news from:

Of course, I had to read that in the Guardian, because neither the Times nor the Post deem it worthy of a report.

Are we really so incapable of ever showing a face to the world that isn’t hysterical and worthy of neverending mockery?

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For anyone who snickers about the Great Orange Satan from time to time, just ask yourself this question: “Would a large right-wing blog ever come clean like this?”:

I have just published a report by three statistics wizards showing, quite convincingly, that the weekly Research 2000 State of the Nation poll we ran the past year and a half was likely bunk. […]

We contracted with Research 2000 to conduct polling and to provide us with the results of their surveys. Based on the report of the statisticians, it’s clear that we did not get what we paid for. We were defrauded by Research 2000, and while we don’t know if some or all of the data was fabricated or manipulated beyond recognition, we know we can’t trust it. Meanwhile, Research 2000 has refused to offer any explanation. Early in this process, I asked for and they offered to provide us with their raw data for independent analysis — which could potentially exculpate them. That was two weeks ago, and despite repeated promises to provide us that data, Research 2000 ultimately refused to do so. At one point, they claimed they couldn’t deliver them because their computers were down and they had to work out of a Kinkos office. Research 2000 was delivered a copy of the report early Monday morning, and though they quickly responded and promised a full response, once again the authors of the report heard nothing more.

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News like this is unequivocally good in my view:

Nearly all of this work is done below the radar, but dozens of government agencies hear from hundreds of official advisory committees, featuring tens of thousands of unpaid members. In general, the panels are made up of people with a certain expertise in obscure areas of public policy, representing companies, trade groups, or advocacy organizations.

It’s a fairly standard practice for these advisory committees to include plenty of lobbyists. It’s a practice the Obama administration is changing.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of lobbyists are likely to be ejected from federal advisory panels as part of a little-noticed initiative by the Obama administration to curb K Street’s influence in Washington, according to White House officials and lobbying experts.

The new policy — issued with little fanfare this fall by the White House ethics counsel — may turn out to be the most far-reaching lobbying rule change so far from President Obama, who also has sought to restrict the ability of lobbyists to get jobs in his administration and to negotiate over stimulus contracts. […]

Under the policy, which is being phased in over the coming months, none of the more than 13,000 lobbyists in Washington would be able to hold seats on the committees, which advise agencies on trade rules, troop levels, environmental regulations, consumer protections and thousands of other government policies.

One always wonders how things would be different in this country if everyday people (qua everyday people) were represented by some kind of a lobbying group, a group that worked to advance policies that benefit the American people as a whole — which would serve as a counterbalance to the corporate, monied interests who wield 90%+ of the clout on Capitol Hill…

Oh wait, the people’s interests are supposed to be represented by their elected representatives.


Oh, and cue the waaaahmbulance:

But lobbyists and many of the businesses they represent say K Street is being unfairly demonized by a White House intent on scoring political points with scandal-weary voters. They warn that the latest policy will severely handicap federal regulators, who rely heavily on advisory boards for technical advice and to serve as liaisons between government and industry.

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DougJ perfectly sums up where my head is at right now on the whole torture debate:

At this point, it’s worth considering what the claims about [Pelosi] being briefed mean and where this is all going. My view is that the story that Pelosi was briefed on waterboarding is subterfuge, like the quilts and blankets in “Pulp Fiction“. It’s not about nailing Pelosi, it’s about having a sufficiently truthy line of bullshit for David Brooks et al. to repeat (Brooks spoke about torture on the Times yesterday, blasting Pelosi and everyone who wants investigations—these are his first comments on torture, to my knowledge). This probably won’t be fully investigated and, even if it is, the findings will probably be equivocal enough that Republicans can continue to scream “Pelosi knew about it” just as the nutosphere likely continues to trash Scott Beauchamp.

To me, though, the big take away here is that the right is losing the torture debate. It started with “Dick Cheney was just keeping us safe from teh terrorists, don’t you libtards watch ‘24’?”. Then it became “mistakes were made, but it was a difficult time.” And now it’s “okay, maybe the whole thing was fucked up, but Pelosi knew about it so it’s her fault.” It’s just another variation on “Clinton did it too” and it’s essentially a defensive posture.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Nancy Pelosi is a saint. I actually view her and Harry Reid with a huge dollop of suspicion. But when it comes to weighing my suspicion of Pelosi against the proven lie factory that was the Bush administration — it’s really no contest.


Over the last few years, it has been difficult to keep track of all the different instances of lies and misdirection about the Bush torture program.

Way back in the day, the Bush administration claimed that we didn’t abuse or mistreat prisoners. Then, when the horrors of Abu Ghraib came to light in 2004, they claimed that any instances of abuse or mistreatment of prisoners were the result of some “bad apples” running amok.

Lately, in the wake of the release of the now-infamous Bush torture memos, the justifications have included claims that any abuse or mistreatment: (1) was approved by lawyers and therefore legal; (2) did not constitute torture; and, most laughably, (3) was not illegal because Bush authorized it.

The most disturbing justification to emerge in the last few weeks runs along the lines of “Sure, we tortured people but that’s okay because the torture we used got us some high-value information.”

There is a new must-read piece in the New York Times this morning that calls into question that latter notion that “torture works”. From the article:

Acutely aware that the agency would be blamed if the policies lost political support, nervous C.I.A. officials began to curb its practices much earlier than most Americans know: no one was waterboarded after March 2003, and coercive interrogation methods were shelved altogether in 2005

Read the whole article. It recounts a bitter fight during 2005-2007 over whether to re-authorize torture after 2005, which involved the President, Vice President, Justice Department, CIA, State Depatment and National Security Agency.

Without getting into all the back-and-forth that went on inside the Bush administration, I think the piece raises a much larger issue. If “torture [allegedly] works”, why did the Bush administration stop using it back in 2005? If, as Dick Cheney and others are now claiming, torture “saved American lives“, why did they stop using it years before Obama took office?

As Harry Shearer writes:

If, as the article reports, the Bush administration, due to rampant internal debate, had stopped waterboarding and walling and all the other repellent practices by 2005, what is Dick Cheney doing in 2009 saying that the Obama administration’s rejection of those practices is making us less safe?

Of course, Cheney’s resort to old-style Republican “the Democrats hate America” rhetoric is amusingly disturbing in any case. But if he’s re-fighting an internal argument he lost four years ago, what’s the point?

Of course, I don’t expect any arguments coming out of the GOP these days to make any kind of logical sense. But isn’t this a fundamental point that anyone with half a brain can grasp? It’s pretty sad that GOP operatives are able to successfully peddle their nonsense to the mainstream media that Obama is somehow making the country “less safe” because he refuses to leave the door open to the torture that was committed under the Bush administration’s 2002-2005 “enhanced interrogation” program. Especially considering that the Bush administration itself allegedly stopped using the practices back in 2005!

No matter how it’s done, we need to get to the bottom of the atrocities that were committed in our name. Our standing overseas and our moral authority to call out abuses by other countries depends on it.


This has got to be one of my favorite quotes in a while:

“The president prefers to tell the truth, rather than make the numbers look better by pretending.”

That’s Obama’s OMB Director Peter Orszag on a remarkable step forward toward greater transparency in government that was announced earlier today.

Here’s what happened in a nutshell. Over the last eight years, whenever Bush submitted a proposed budget to Congress, he intentionally hid hundreds of billions of dollars in spending (for things like, say, the Iraq War) as so-called “off-budget” items. This was done with the intent of making Bush’s budgets seem way smaller than they really were.

What Obama has now done is to do away with all that. His budgets will now include all budget spending and will no longer hide countless billions in an “off budget” footnote.

Here’s Steve Benen:

It’s about damn time. The smoke-and-mirrors approach to which we’ve grown accustomed was ridiculous. It was a problem policymakers recognized, but didn’t want to talk about, and had no interest in fixing. It’s not only heartening to see Obama bring some sanity to the process, it will also have key practical consequences — honest budgets lead to better policy making.

Noam Scheiber added that it will be “kinda helpful to have a budget that actually means something when you’re debating public policy,” and added the political upside to using honest budget numbers for a change: “Why not make the long-term deficit look as large as possible at the beginning of your term? Not only can you fairly blame your predecessor at that point; the bigger the deficit looks, the easier it is to show progress, which Obama will need to do as he runs for re-election. To take one example, you can’t claim savings from drawing down in Iraq if you don’t put Iraq spending on the budget in the first place (which Bush mostly didn’t).”