Obama’s Betrayals on Transparency

On the very first day of his administration, President Obama promised the country that he would be the most transparent administration ever and issued an executive order telling all federal agencies to be more responsive to Freedom of Information Act requests and to treat maximum transparency as the default answer. All of that has turned out to be a lie. In reality, his administration has thwarted efforts at transparency at every turn. Here’s a perfect example.

As we recently reported, the Department of Justice was considering amending its FOIA regulations so that it could lie to FOIA requesters and deny the existence of certain documents.

Fortunately, after the condemnation of Senators GrassleyUdall, andLeahy, the ACLU, Openthegovernment.org, and many, many others, the Department of Justice abandoned the proposed regulation.

Despite this FOIA victory, the fight is not over. The DOJ is attempting to push through a dozen other changes to its FOIA regulations, some of which are just as alarming as that which was taken off the table.

For instance:

Discerning which of the dozens of agencies in the Department of Justice to send a FOIA request to is tricky. This is why under the current FOIA regulations a requester is allowed to write directly to the Department of Justice FOIA office for documents and a FOIA professional in turn sends the request to the correct component. However, under the proposed regulation “A requester must write directly to the FOIA office of the Department component that maintains those records.”

This is unfair, as it is absurd to expect anyone other than an expert FOIA requester to be able to determine which Department of Justice component to send their request to, especially when the agency itself is oftentimes unclear on which component possesses specific records. Such an exclusive barrier is antithetical to the idea of democratization of information…

The Department of Justice is also trying to sell an antiquated notion of what it means to be a news organization. If Justice has their way, it would be more difficult for news agencies to obtain records because to classify as a member of the news media, an organization must “make their products available through a variety of means to the general public.” This would discount, most obviously, media outlets that exist only on the Internet. Organizations like ProPublica – which just received its second Pulitzer Prize in as many years for its reporting on the financial crisis – would not qualify as representatives of the news media.

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  • Tualha

    I am sick and tired of voting for a bad candidate merely in order to keep out a worse candidate. As long as people continue to do that, the Democratic party is never going to reform itself; why should it? I live in Florida, and come 2012, I’ll vote for a Green, or NOTA, but I’m damned if I’ll vote for Obama again.

  • I am so incredibly depressed about politics. Count me in on the list of people who voted for Obama and will never vote for him again. I’ve never been as politically passionate as I am now, and I’ve never felt more disenfranchised than I am now.

  • Michael Heath


    I’ll vote for a Green, or NOTA, but I’m damned if I’ll vote for Obama again.

    Are you prepared to own up to your responsibility if the GOP nominee wins the swing state of Florida and the election and then nominates federal judges who will preside in a manner similar to Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito and perhaps even like Robert Bork and Roy Moore given how quickly the conservative movement is swinging ever more to the radical right?

    I empathize with how distasteful politics is and always has been. I was a high school class optimist (and therefore an idealist) and have seen my nature justifiably ground down over the decades. But sometimes progress is made playing good “D” (defense) rather than winning solely on offense.

    And as bad as this failure in transparency is, which I appreciate given my love of process, let’s not forget there are far more factors we must also consider, some of which are equally or even far more important, where the president is on the right side. For example, an unwillingness to go to war with Iran, or his willingness to use fiscal policy to support a weak economy rather than allowing it create a global depression of catastrophic proportion if we actually executed policies advocated by all the GOP presidential nominees, or his support for the Fed Chairman employing expansionary monetary policies where the current GOP candidates yearn to use creationist-like monetary policies which would also assuredly lead to global catastrophe.

    And please don’t construe my advice coming from a high moral horse. One of the biggest blunders I ever made was voting for George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000, where I too was a Florida resident at the time. Coming from the tech industry I clearly should have known better and let my idealistic impulses overwhelm a more realistic view of the political landscape. [I was hoping we’d see tax reform with a Bush presidency with my prediction he’d enjoy a GOP-majoritarian Congress. Reform that made American corporations more globally competitive as a resonse to end the deterioration of our labor market and then-stagnant median discretionary income trends. Instead the GOP exploited the current tax code for a few business interests that actually do well only by harming the business cycle in general, e.g., fossil fuel industry. Given that Bush was an oil-friendly governor from an oil state, my argument appears pretty dense even to the current me, which I came to concede in early-2003.]

  • slc1

    Re Michael Heath @ #3

    Are you prepared to own up to your responsibility if the GOP nominee wins the swing state of Florida and the election and then nominates federal judges who will preside in a manner similar to Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito and perhaps even like Robert Bork and Roy Moore given how quickly the conservative movement is swinging ever more to the radical right?

    I have made this same argument on numerous times on this blog in response to the Tualhas of the world and the response has been that the current incumbent’s appointments won’t be any better. Given the vast ideological gulf between Sotomayor/Kagen on the one hand and Alito/Roberts on the other hand, this is a totally inane position. They are like the creationists and global warming deniers. Their minds are made up, the facts are irrelevant.

    Unlike Mr. Michael Heath, who is willing to admit to mistakes, the assholes in Florida who voted for Nader because Al Gore wasn’t pure enough will never admit to having been wrong. Instead, they will blather on with ridiculous claims that Gore’s appointments would have been just as bad when called on it.

  • Tualha

    @Michael Heath:

    Are you prepared to own up to your responsibility if the GOP nominee wins the swing state of Florida and the election and then nominates federal judges…

    Why, yes. Yes, I am. What I wonder is who else will accept their responsibility? For example, all the registered Democrats who failed to control their party’s increasing swing to the right or hold their candidates accountable. Or all the figures in the media who failed to comment on that trend. Or all the people like you, who constantly hold up the spectre of a Republican president appointing conservative justices who will subsequently demolish civil rights, to persuade people to meekly accept the lesser evil.

    I am done with accepting the lesser evil. If a series of Republican victories is the only way to reform or replace the Democratic party, so be it. The country has survived worse.

  • sc_f34d31c0eb054f13969e9cb8ec8e73c0

    Siding with Tualha, always choosing the lesser of two evils still leads to a monotonic increase in evil. Personally, I think working now to make a third party viable at some point in the future may just be more valuable than the damage control involved in voting Democrat.

    On the other hand, that point is pretty arguable which is why I don’t go around criticizing Democrats for wanting to vote for Obama. I wish they’d return the favor and mind their own damned business.

  • slc1

    Re Tualha @ #5

    I find it interesting how schmucks like Mr. Tualha are so ignorant of history. This tactic of refusing to vote for Democrats who do not satisfy his exacting standards of ideological purity have been tried in the past and have proven a total failure. Consider the 1968 election, which did not lead to a Democratic party such as Mr. Tualha prefers (I hardly think that James Earl Carter and William Jefferson Clinton satisfy his exacting ideological standards). The 2000 election in which another centrist Democrat, Al Gore, failed to satisfy the exacting ideological standards of several thousand Nader voters in New Hampshire and Florida and did not lead to the left liberal Democratic party so desired by Mr. Tualha and his ilk but to the nomination of another centrist, Barack Obama.

    The trouble is that the USA is a basically conservative country and has always been so. Nomination of presidential candidates perceived to be well to the left of the mainstream have resulted in electoral landslides for the opposition (e.g. George McGovern, Michael Dukakis, and Walter Mondale).

  • Modusoperandi

    slc1 “The trouble is that the USA is a basically conservative country and has always been so.”

    Really? I don’t have my links with me, but polls indicate that Americans tend to be for liberal ideas(*1) as long as you don’t make them sound like the liberal programs that they are.(*2) Then they go Tribal.(*3)

    *1. eg: Medicare ‘n’ Social Security remain quite popular among all but the rabid conservative base [and, note, virtually all of their federal representatives]…and even they want it. They just don’t want anybody after them to get it.

    *2. So, rationally, they’re protective of, say, Medicare, with “Keep your government hands out of my Medicare” or “Obama slashed $500B from Medicare! Outrage!”, while Tribally they can then cheer the Ryan budget (which keeps most of Obama’s “cuts”, does nothing else to rein in costs, is up to 40% more expensive, hides that extra expense by simply not covering it, and will effect them no matter what Ryan says) without even a hint of irony or self awareness.(*3)

    *3. Basically they want the sweet liberal cookie wrapped in the bitter conservative coating of resentment.

  • Tualha

    So then, what alternative do you suggest? Keep voting for Democrats who do little to deserve it? How will that improve things? Who will they consider to be their constituency? On the one hand, they’ll have campaign contributors giving them unlimited millions of dollars (aka “speech”, thank you SCOTUS). On the other hand, they’ll have voters who voted for them anyway, even when it’s obvious that they really work for corporate America. So what are they going to do? What, exactly, will keep them from ending up one millimeter to the left of the most moderate Republicans?

    Remember Bulworth? “Isn’t that OBVIOUS? You got half your kids are out of work and the other half are in jail. Do you see ANY Democrat doing anything about it? Certainly not me! So what’re you gonna do, vote Republican? Come on! Come on, you’re not gonna vote Republican!”

  • Modusoperandi

    Tualha, a liberal says “third party”. A teabagger says “primary”.

  • Chris from Europe

    In this scenario, Modusoperandi, the teabagger would be the more reasonable.

    I think voting Republican or not voting has been shown to bring even worse results then voting for bad Democrats. It may be very frustrating, but for the short term trying to get better Democrats seems the only option.

    I will only mention voting systems and avoid repeating myself.