Free Markets, Free People

transparency


The most transparent administration in history … not

The Obama White House has quietly rewritten a portion of the Freedom Of Information Act to exclude what it calls “White House equities” from being released without a White House review.  The rewrite was inspired by a 2009 memo by then White House counsel, Greg Craig:

The Greg memo is described in detail in a new study made public today by Cause of Action, a Washington-based nonprofit watchdog group that monitors government transparency and accountability.

How serious an attack on the public’s right to know is the Obama administration’s invention of the “White House equities” exception?

“FOIA is designed to inform the public on government behavior; White House equities allow the government to withhold information from the media, and therefore the public, by having media requests forwarded for review. This not only politicizes federal agencies, it impairs fundamental First Amendment liberties,” Cause of Action explains in its report.

The equities exception is breathtaking in its breadth. As the Greg memo put it, any document request is covered, including “congressional committee requests, GAO requests, judicial subpoenas and FOIA requests.”

And it doesn’t matter what format the documents happen to be in because, according to Greg, the equities exception “applies to all documents and records, whether in oral, paper, or electronic form, that relate to communications to and from the White House, including preparations for such communications.”

What this effectively does is stop federal agencies from answering FOIA requests which might include “White House equities” within the 20 days required by law.  There is no apparent limit to the review time the White House can take with its “review” of such requests.  Since the White House gets to decide what are “White House equities” and how long it will take to review requests which include them, the change effectively neuters the intent of the FOIA law.  This gives the White House the ability to delay release of such information until it is politically beneficial for them to do so (or, in reality, not at all):

In one case cited by Cause of Action, the response to a request from a Los Angeles Times reporter to the Department of the Interior for “communications between the White House and high-ranking Interior officials on various politically sensitive topics” was delayed at least two years by the equities review.

And that isn’t the only department in which such delays have become common:

“Cause of Action is still waiting for documents from 16 federal agencies, with the Department of Treasury having the longest pending request of 202 business days.

“The Department of Energy is a close second at 169 business days. The requests to the Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services have been pending for 138 business days,” the report said.

This is what political subversion looks like.  It is also a fairly common example of this administration saying one thing and actually doing the opposite.

Most transparent administration ever.  Another lie worthy of 4 Pinocchios.

~McQ


TARP IG blasts program

So much for administration spin about the effectiveness of TARP. Neil Barofsky, TARP’s special inspector general, deals the administration narrative a shot to the head. In effect, he tells Americans angry about the program they have a right to be:

…[M]any Americans to continue to view TARP with anger, cynicism, and mistrust. While some of that hostility may be misplaced, much of it is based on entirely legitimate concerns about the lack of transparency, program mismanagement and flawed decision-making processes that continue to plague the program.

Some specifics:

“When Treasury refuses for more than a year to require TARP recipients to account for the use of TARP funds, or claims that Capital Purchase Program participants were “healthy, viable” institutions knowing full well that some are not, or when it provides hundreds of billions of dollars in TARP assistance to institutions, and then relies on those same institutions to self-report any violations of their obligations to TARP, it damages the public’s trust to a degree that is difficult to repair.”

Ya think? And you remember all the rhetoric about forestalling foreclosure? Uh, FAIL:

[T]he most specific of TARP’s Main Street goals, “preserving homeownership,” has so far fallen woefully short, with TARP’s portion of the Administration’s mortgage modification program yielding only approximately 207,000 (out of a total of 467,000) ongoing permanent modifications since TARP’s inception, a number that stands in stark contrast to the 5.5 million homes receiving foreclosure filings and more than 1.7 million homes that have been lost to foreclosure since January 2009.

Now, I’m not agreeing that any of that should have been done – this is about claims the administration and Democrats made for spending the money.

Question: where has the money really gone?

Oh, and you remember “spurring lending” as a key reason for TARP? Not so much.  In fact, not much at all:

“TARP has failed to ‘increase lending,’ with small businesses in particular unable to secure badly needed credit. Indeed, even now, overall lending continues to contract, despite the hundreds of billions of TARP dollars provided to banks with the express purpose to increase lending.”

Meanwhile in the "moral hazard" department – success:

“…[I]ncreased moral hazard and concentration in the financial industry continue to be a TARP legacy. The biggest banks are bigger than ever, fueled by Government support and taxpayer-assisted mergers and acquisitions. And the repeated statements that the Government would stand by these banks during the financial crisis has given a significant advantage to the larger “too big to fail” banks, as reflected in their enhanced credit ratings borne from a market perception that the Government will still not let these institutions fail, although the impact of this cost may be blunted by recently enacted regulatory reform.”

Almost a trillion dollars and they really don’t know where it has gone. Additionally, they’ve not at all achieved the goals for which they tried to tell the public this money was so damned important.

Lack of transparency?  Mismanagement?  Flawed decision-making?  Why weren’t those things included in the administration’s spin. 

And we just let them take health care from us as well.

Nice.

~McQ


Enjoy, Democrats – while you can

I’m sure today we’ll see a certain amount of crowing from the left. Such is life. You ram an unpopular bill through by trickery, lies, bribes and BS and I’m sure for some it’s a reason for celebration. Principles, ethics and decorum never were big on that side of the spectrum.  However, “by any means necessary” is. Unfortunately, like most major legislation, those who put us in this hole will likely not be around to shovel in the dirt when the fiscal lies bury us.

Today the right -and independents who don’t support this travesty- learn that elections do indeed have consequences. In November, one hopes, the Democrats learn bad legislation that opposes the will of the majority of Americans has consequences as well.

There’s more too it than that, though. I think Megan McArdle best sums up my thoughts on what has transpired in the last months and weeks, culminating in last night’s vote:

One cannot help but admire Nancy Pelosi’s skill as a legislator. But it’s also pretty worrying. Are we now in a world where there is absolutely no recourse to the tyranny of the majority? Republicans and other opponents of the bill did their job on this; they persuaded the country that they didn’t want this bill. And that mattered basically not at all. If you don’t find that terrifying, let me suggest that you are a Democrat who has not yet contemplated what Republicans might do under similar circumstances. Farewell, social security! Au revoir, Medicare! The reason entitlements are hard to repeal is that the Republicans care about getting re-elected. If they didn’t–if they were willing to undertake this sort of suicide mission–then the legislative lock-in you’re counting on wouldn’t exist.

Oh, wait–suddenly it doesn’t seem quite fair that Republicans could just ignore the will of their constituents that way, does it? Yet I guarantee you that there are a lot of GOP members out there tonight who think that they should get at least one free “Screw You” vote to balance out what the Democrats just did.

If the GOP takes the legislative innovations of the Democrats and decides to use them, please don’t complain that it’s not fair. Someone could get seriously hurt, laughing that hard.

But I hope they don’t. What I hope is that the Democrats take a beating at the ballot box and rethink their contempt for those mouth-breathing illiterates in the electorate. I hope Obama gets his wish to be a one-term president who passed health care. Not because I think I will like his opponent–I very much doubt that I will support much of anything Obama’s opponent says. But because politicians shouldn’t feel that the best route to electoral success is to lie to the voters, and then ignore them.

Please do everyone a favor, Democrats, and avoid talking about “polarization” and the “poisonous political atmosphere”. You created them (and if you didn’t you’ve taken them to a new and higher level) and any attempt on your part to shift the blame on others will be seen for exactly what it is – projection. Remember, it wasn’t the right calling those who earnestly turned out to oppose this monstrosity “fascists”, “brownshirts” and “astroturf”.

And please avoid whining about “bi-partisanship” and “transparency” as well. There was no attempt or desire to make this bi-partisan. The opposition was excluded from the beginning and then you acted surprised when they wouldn’t support this awful legislation. The process was about as opaque as one could make it. Backroom deals, political theater, bribes and legislation no one could read until it was up for a vote.

Yes, Democrats have set an new low for a standard in Congress – and that’s a pretty tough thing to do. Like McArdle, I hope they pay for it this November and November of ’12 and I intend to work toward that. My job? Keep reminding the electorate of what happened here. Keep the fire stoked and burning. Keep the anger bubbling. Keep reminding them that they were lied to and ignored. Keep pointing out that this bill wasn’t about how much the Democrats thought of the American people but instead how much they hold them in contempt. This was strictly about power, party and politics.

So celebrate on the left. Please. Do. I’d like to say you “earned” it, but I find unprincipled and deceitful grabs for power to be something less than that. It’s a gut feeling but I think you’ll pay heavily in November (I say you lose the House and retain a slim majority in the Senate sans Reid). At that point, you are barred from whining about minority rights, House or Senate rules, reconciliation and transparency.  You’ve decided on a new set of rules and we’ll see how well you can live with them, won’t we?

And, since few will consider keeping their kids on their insurance until they’re 27 much of a benefit (and that’s about all that kicks in on this bill besides the taxes), my guess the fight for repeal will be popular, will most likely consume the next 2 years and will cost Obama his presidency in ’12.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer one term president. I’m sure his concession speech, barring a breakdown of TOTUS, will be a doozy.

In the meantime, let the law suits begin.

~McQ


Obama’s Transparency

President Obama went after Washington lobbyists in a big way last night, blaming them for what ails America in a major portion of his State of the Union speech.

In his State of the Union on Wednesday, Obama once again targeted K Street: “We face a deficit of trust — deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap, we have to take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; to give our people the government they deserve.”

But that was yesterday. Today his administration reached out to those same lobbyists to help pass Obama’s agenda:

A day after bashing lobbyists, President Barack Obama’s administration has invited K Street insiders to join private briefings on a range of topics addressed in Wednesday’s State of the Union.

The Treasury Department on Thursday morning invited selected individuals to “a series of conference calls with senior Obama administration officials to discuss key aspects of the State of the Union address.” …

The invitation stated, “The White House is encouraging you to participate in these calls and will have a question and answer session at the end of each call. As a reminder, these calls are not intended for press purposes.”

Like a secret mistress, K-Streeters are not exactly thrilled with Obama demonizing them in public and then requesting their expertise behind closed doors:

Some lobbyists say they are extremely frustrated with the White House for criticizing them and then seeking their feedback. Others note that Democrats on Capitol Hill constantly urge them to make political donations.

One lobbyist said, “Bash lobbyists, then reach out to us. Bash lobbyists [while] I have received four Democratic invitations for fundraisers.”

[...]

Lobbyists say the Obama White House has held many off-the-record teleconferences over the past year.

For example, lobbyists and others were invited to a teleconference with “senior Obama administration officials” on Monday to discuss the administration’s plan to improve the lives of middle-class families.

The invitation, which is addressed to “Friends,” emphasizes in bold and italics that “this call is for background information only and not intended for press purposes.” It advises callers to tell the operator “you’re joining the ‘White House Briefing Call.’ ”

Another lobbyist said these types of teleconferences occur “all the time.”

And that is why many on K Street are exasperated with Obama’s use of lobbyists as a punching bag. Some have said they understood why he used strong rhetoric on the campaign trail but are irritated the White House solicits their opinions while Obama’s friends in Congress badger them for political donations.

That politicians court special interests is nothing new, nor is their blatant prevarication and hypocrisy when it comes to claiming to “work for the people.” Yet publicly targeting specific groups for opprobrium in order to drum up public support, and then immediately running to that very same group for their help, is a whole special class of slimy. Who is it, exactly, that Obama thinks he’s backstabbing? The electorate? The lobbyists? Indeed, why should anyone trust him at all? And all of this in the name of transparency.

Judging by his actions, Obama thinks “transparency” means “clearly lying”.


The Transparent Administration

Except when locked in a battle in which it is trying to fool the public into accepting a 1 trillion plus spending program as a “money saver”. Then, apparently, it is quite all right to delay the scheduled release of its revised budget numbers (based on known economic indicators):

The White House is being forced to acknowledge the wide gap between its once-upbeat predictions about the economy and today’s bleak landscape.

The administration’s annual midsummer budget update is sure to show higher deficits and unemployment and slower growth than projected in President Barack Obama’s budget in February and update in May, and that could complicate his efforts to get his signature health care and global-warming proposals through Congress.

The release of the update – usually scheduled for mid-July – has been put off until the middle of next month, giving rise to speculation the White House is delaying the bad news at least until Congress leaves town on its August 7 summer recess.

And, of course, what it hopes to have in its pocket at that time is a health care reform bill passed by Congress. So why delay the budget update? Well, it isn’t going to be kind to the administration’s rosy speculation concerning deficit and growth, that’s why:

“Instead of a dream, this routine report could be a nightmare,” Tony Fratto, a former Treasury Department official and White House spokesman under President George W. Bush, said of the delayed budget update. “There are some things that can’t be escaped.”

The administration earlier this year predicted that unemployment would peak at about 9 percent without a big stimulus package and 8 percent with one. Congress did pass a $787 billion two-year stimulus measure, yet unemployment soared to 9.5 percent in June and appears headed for double digits.

Obama’s current forecast anticipates 3.2 percent growth next year, then 4 percent or higher growth from 2011 to 2013. Private forecasts are less optimistic, especially for next year.

Any downward revision in growth or revenue projections would mean that budget deficits would be far higher than the administration is now suggesting.

And then there’s the debt problem, which is headed to new and dizzying heights:

The nation’s debt – the total of accumulated annual budget deficits – now stands at $11.6 trillion. In the scheme of things, that’s more important than talking about the “deficit,” which only looks at a one-year slice of bookkeeping and totally ignores previous indebtedness that is still outstanding.

Even so, the administration has projected that the annual deficit for the current budget year will hit $1.84 trillion, four times the size of last year’s deficit of $455 billion. Private forecasters suggest that shortfall may actually top $2 trillion.

The administration has projected that the annual deficit for the current budget year will hit $1.84 trillion, four times the size of last year’s deficit of $455 billion. Private forecasters suggest that shortfall may top $2 trillion.

If a higher deficit and lower growth numbers are not part of the administration’s budget update, that will lead to charges that the White House is manipulating its figures to offer too rosy an outlook – the same criticism leveled at previous administrations.

Of course, if it does include the higher deficit and lower growth numbers, as it should, it would also most likely kill the costly push toward health care “reform”. And that is why it is being delayed.

How do I say that with such assurance? Because this is a routine and easily produced report despite what the administration is trying to claim.

White House officials say it is now expected in mid-August. They blame the delay on the fact that this is a transition year between presidencies and note that Obama didn’t release his full budget until early May – instead of the first week in February, when he put out just an outline.

Still, the update mainly involves plugging in changes in economic indicators, not revising program-by-program details. And indicators such as unemployment and gross domestic product changes have been public knowledge for some time.

As Ed Morrissey asks:

Consider this: if those budget numbers looked good, would the White House postpone revealing them? Obama could use all the good news he can get at the moment, especially with two big-spending bills stalling in Congress.

Ironically, the White House budget director was making the rounds claiming those trying to delay the vote on health care were trying to kill it, all the while the administration is delaying the budget report with the purpose of depriving law makers the information they need in their consideration of the cost of such legislation.

Meanwhile, we are apparently on course to eat our way into prosperity as the Recovery Act spends your hard earned dollars on … cheese.

~McQ


About Those Previously Condemned Wiretaps

No surprise to some, but a complete surprise to others I’m sure:

The Obama administration is again invoking government secrecy in defending the Bush administration’s wiretapping program, this time against a lawsuit by AT&T customers who claim federal agents illegally intercepted their phone calls and gained access to their records.

Disclosure of information sought by the customers, “which concerns how the United States seeks to detect and prevent terrorist attacks, would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security,” Justice Department lawyers said in papers filed Friday in San Francisco.

Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a lawyer for the customers, said Monday the filing was disappointing in light of the Obama presidential campaign’s “unceasing criticism of Bush-era secrecy and promise for more transparency.”

The promise of transparency has been the most consistent casualty of the Obama administration. No bills thus far have been posted on the web 5 days prior to signing. The Treasury Department refuses to disclose how TARP money has been spent. And now this – something, as the EFF points out, which was unceasingly criticized by candidate Obama when the Bush administration was in power.

Now, that said, perhaps what the Obama Justice Department has discovered is argument the Bush administration was making at the time were valid. The case in question is an extension of the September case:

Like the earlier suit, the September case relies on a former AT&T technician’s declaration that he saw equipment installed at the company’s San Francisco office to allow NSA agents to copy all incoming e-mails. The plaintiffs’ lawyers say the declaration, and public statements by government officials, revealed a “dragnet” surveillance program that indiscriminately scooped up messages and customer records.

The Justice Department said Friday that government agents monitored only communications in which “a participant was reasonably believed to be associated with al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization.” But proving that the surveillance program did not sweep in ordinary phone customers would require “disclosure of highly classified NSA intelligence sources and methods,” the department said.

It would appear the Obama Justice Department has examined the case and the evidence and, amazingly, has come to the conclusion that what the Bush administration claimed – that the taps were aimed only at al Qaeda and/or affiliated organizations – was correct, and is now defending that. They’ve also concluded that disclosure of the information involved in the case would be harmful to national security.

What I now wonder is if “secrecy” suddenly is ok? And since it is the Obama administration – the increasingly opaque Obama administration – saying the taps were used only on bad guys, are they now ok? And will that be enough to mollify those on the left who were so outraged when the Bush administration was accused of doing all of this?

And finally, I wonder if the NYT will devote the time and space to this defense of what it termed “illegal wiretapping” in the past as it did when it surfaced during the Bush administration?

~McQ


You’re Doing A Heck Of A Job, Timmy …

You remember TARP. The “Troubled Asset Rescue Plan”? The plan which the Obama administration and the Treasury Department said they were monitoring closely? In fact, they even put a “watchdog” in charge of its oversight.

Transparency. Oversight. Hope and Change.

And any other buzzword promise that was thrown out there to describe how this administration would be so different from the last.

But apparently all the oversight promised depends heavily on cooperation, not stonewalling, by the Department administering TARP. That would be Treasury:

Looks like the same old stuff to me

Looks like the same old stuff to me

“We do not seem to be a priority for the Treasury Department,” the Congressional Oversight Panel’s Elizabeth Warren told a Senate Finance Committee hearing today.

“We have sent letters. We have requested that there be someone named so that we can get technical information. And so far, we have not been a first priority,” Warren said. “We use what you give us, and we will exercise the leverage given to us by Congress. In part, that’s why I’m here today. I’m here to talk to you about what’s happened so far, what we have discovered so far, the inquiries that we have in mid-stream and for which we continue to await responses.”

Warren, visibly frustrated with a lack of cooperation from the administration, emphasized, “This problem starts with Treasury.”

Now part of the problem, obviously, is that several key positions in Treasury have yet to be filled, over 60 days into the new administration and in the midst of a financial crisis. Apparently that’s not a priority either.

Oh, and you’ll love this:

Neil Barofsky, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, voiced similar concerns.

He noted that his office just conducted a survey of all 364 TARP recipients on their use of government funds, something they had requested Treasury do, only for the Department to decline to do so except in the cases of Citigroup and Bank of America.

“One thing is clear: complaints that it was impractical, impossible, or a waste of time to require banks to detail how they used TARP funds were unfounded,” Barofsky said.

I continue to be unimpressed with Tim Geithner and his management and leadership style. What you’re reading here is totally unacceptable. For once, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said the right thing:

“Unfortunately, despite saying all the right things about open government, the new administration has not made any major changes aimed at making TARP more transparent,” he said. “Moreover, I have heard about potential problems with access to information from all three of the oversight bodies testifying.”

Hope and Change.

~McQ


Transparency Redefined

Perhaps you’ve heard about Joe Biden’s latest gaffe regarding his task of overseeing the Recovery Act:

How can the public know that the money is allocated correctly? That’s the question CBS’s Maggie Rodriguez asked.

“We’re going to put every bit of this transparently up on a website. You’re gonna know. You’ll be able to go on a website. Every single bit of this will be on a website,” he explained.

What website?

“You know, I’m embarrassed. Do you know the website number?” he asked looking offstage. “I should have it in front of me and I don’t. I’m actually embarrassed.”

He was able to get the website “number” from someone off camera.

“Recovery.gov. It’s Recovery.gov. It’s up and running,” he said with newfound confidence.

If that doesn’t inspire confidence, then maybe you should just go visit the “number” VP Joe suggested. Before you do, however, keep in mind that, from far to wide and low to high, the Obama administration has been touting not just the need for transparency,

Orzag said the two goals are to spend stimulus money “quickly” and “wisely,” adding, “We have to go beyond normal procedures to a higher level of transparency.”

But also on the determination and ability of the administration to deliver it:

“I [Pres. Obama] am also proud to announce the appointment of Earl Devaney as Chair of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board. For nearly a decade as Inspector General at the Interior Department, Earl has doggedly pursued waste, fraud and mismanagement, and Joe and I can’t think of a more tenacious and efficient guardian of the hard-earned tax dollars the American people have entrusted us to wisely invest.”

Apparently, the whole point of Recovery.gov is to show where your tax dollars are going, and what they are being spent on. So let’s have a gander.

On the front page, my eyes were immediately drawn to the large graph dominating the left side of the page:

Recovery.gov breakdown of what the $787 Billion is going to

Recovery.gov breakdown of what the $787 Billion is going to

Wow! According to that chart, the largest expenditure by far ($288 Billion) is going to tax relief. Heck it’s twice as much as the next category of State and Local Fiscal Relief which is only get a paltry $144 Billion. That’s fantastic news. I feel so bad now for thinking that the bill was nothing more than a huge wealth transfer and goodies giveaway. Tax relief is always a good idea when it comes to pulling ourselves out of a recession.

But wait? What’s that asterisk? I click on the chart and am taken to a lovely bubble graph that displays the same information. But with more bubbles, which are always nice. And bubble are transparent too, right?

Recovery money.  Now in bubble form!

Recovery money. Now in bubble form!

Yep. There it is again, that $288 Billion in tax relief, dwarfing all the puny spending bubbles. Of course, being an intelligent person, I know that you have to add all of the spending bubbles together to see how they compare to the tax relief, but it’s strangely comforting to see that giant, transparent bubble named Tax Relief making all the other bubbles seem, somehow, insignificant.

Unfortunately, that asterisk is still there as well. I follow it down to the bottom of the page where, in tiny print, I see these words:

* Tax Relief – includes $15 B for Infrastructure and Science, $61 B for Protecting the Vulnerable, $25 B for Education and Training and $22 B for Energy, so total funds are $126 B for Infrastructure and Science, $142 B for Protecting the Vulnerable, $78 B for Education and Training, and $65 B for Energy.

I think my bubble has burst. But that’s how government works now I guess: making bubbles bigger than they ought to be.