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Jun 19 2012

Obama’s False Promise of Transparency

Remember when President Obama promised, on his very first day in office, to have the most transparent administration in history? The reality has been quite the contrary and here’s yet another example. In response to a FOIA request for Bush-era legal document on the president’s authority to make recess appointments, the DOJ redacted well over 90% of the document. You can view the redacted document here.

This has absolutely nothing to do with national security or state secrets, it’s just an advisory opinion about when the president can and can’t make recess appointments to executive branch positions. Yet the document they released is absolutely meaningless. Marcy Wheeler points out that it’s more redacted than legal opinions that do involve classified information:

It is almost entirely redacted. Just 11 lines out of three pages are left unredacted–and one of those reads, “Please let us know if we may be of further assistance.”

Just for shits and giggles, I compared that memo to another Jack Goldsmith memo, one that relates to actual national security issues: Goldsmith’s May 6, 2004 memo finding the revamped illegal wiretap program legal. That’s a 108 page memo, of which 46 pages are entirely redacted or redacted to the same degree as any one of the three pages in this recess appointment one. There are a slew more redactions, many of them obviously improper.

The last line, “Please let me know if we can be of further assistance. (U)” appears unredacted there, too.

Nevertheless, the Administration redacted far more of the earlier Goldsmith memo–the recess appointment one–than the one dealing with one of our most sensitive counterterrorism programs.

The “most transparent administration ever” line is getting to be as bad a joke as Scalia’s “new professionalism” claim.

14 comments

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  1. 1
    Gregory in Seattle

    The more things change we can believe in, the more unbelieably things stay the same.

  2. 2
    Tualha

    Maybe the blacked-out portions consisted of Alberto Gonzalez ranting about how people who disagree with this opinion should be tortured…

  3. 3
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Obama meant “transparent” as in “transparently full of shit”. People just keep misunderstanding at which layer the transparency was to occur.

  4. 4
    Michael Heath

    Ed,

    This argument is beneath you. Anecdotes can provide a nice illustration to metrics and trends describing a population. They’re a poor replacement for representative findings.

  5. 5
  6. 6
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    Because I’ve been forced to post too many Phil Ochs songs lately, I give you Jello Biafra’s “Love me, I’m a Liberal” http://youtu.be/tGDT7wKvdRk

  7. 7
    Homo Straminus

    Michael Heath,

    I disagree. I think this anecdote is useful precisely because it *is* a representative finding of how recklessly un-transparent the government is under the current administration.

    If you can come up with a reason why it’s not a rather pure example of excessive secrecy to nearly-completely redact a document about presidential ability to make recess appointments, I’d (genuinely) love to hear it.

  8. 8
    Michael Heath

    Homo Straminus rebuts my pointing out Ed’s argument is fatally defective:

    I think this anecdote is useful precisely because it *is* a representative finding of how recklessly un-transparent the government is under the current administration.

    You can’t claim one data point is representative without first establishing what is representative. Sheesh.

  9. 9
    Homo Straminus

    Michael, I must be missing something. It sounds like you’re saying Ed needs to quote every case in which the administration has (from what we can tell) needlessly redacted or obstructed transparency in order for a new instance to be introduced as another example of same?

    Again, what I (and perhaps Ed) see as representative here is an intentional systemic obfuscation of the workings of our government, for the sake of secrecy alone.

  10. 10
    Michael Heath

    Homo Straminus writes:

    Michael, I must be missing something. It sounds like you’re saying Ed needs to quote every case in which the administration has (from what we can tell) needlessly redacted or obstructed transparency in order for a new instance to be introduced as another example of same?

    Again, what I (and perhaps Ed) see as representative here is an intentional systemic obfuscation of the workings of our government, for the sake of secrecy alone.

    As a daily reader, I don’t recall Ed ever establishing a “systemic obfuscation” by the Obama Administration which is equivalent or marginally worse than previous Administrations rather than marginally better. For all we know reading Ed’s posts here, the Obama Administration could be vastly improved from all previous Administrations albeit with some defective events continuing. The onus is on you and Ed to make your case regarding the representative when the representative is asserted as both you and Ed do; that’s a basic principle in argumentation anyone in this forum should acknowledge.

  11. 11
    Worldtraveller

    M. Heath:

    As a daily reader, I don’t recall Ed ever establishing a “systemic obfuscation” by the Obama Administration which is equivalent or marginally worse than previous Administrations rather than marginally better

    Mr. Heath, as another long time reader here, I am surprised that you make this assertion. Transparency is one of the things that Ed pretty much always calls out when this administration, and the administration before, asserts privilege.

    Just click on the tag that says ‘Transparency’ below Ed’s post, and it will take you directly to all the posts in that category. Not all of them apply to the Obama administration, but there are enough that I would feel comfortable saying Ed has established this as a systemic problem.

  12. 12
    Michael Heath

    I wrote earlier:

    As a daily reader, I don’t recall Ed ever establishing a “systemic obfuscation” by the Obama Administration which is equivalent or marginally worse than previous Administrations rather than marginally better

    fastlane responds:

    Mr. Heath, as another long time reader here, I am surprised that you make this assertion. Transparency is one of the things that Ed pretty much always calls out when this administration, and the administration before, asserts privilege.

    Right, and that population of events would be an incredibly low figure relative to the total volume of information, both disclosed and witheld. Those anecdotes also don’t relate the number of those defects to either the total population or the rate differential with previous administrations. So these anecdotes provide no opportunity to understand either the scale or the trend.

    fastlane responds:

    Just click on the tag that says ‘Transparency’ below Ed’s post, and it will take you directly to all the posts in that category. Not all of them apply to the Obama administration, but there are enough that I would feel comfortable saying Ed has established this as a systemic problem.

    As I noted earlier, I’m perfectly cognizant regarding the frequency of Ed’s posts on this topic, I never argued he didn’t present anecdotes. I argued he’s failed to reveal the president’s actual performance relative to the population, relative to rate of failure of previous administrations, or the trend since the president took office.

    Your argument is comparable to how Fox News presents the supposed failure of the president on administrating the laws when it comes to illegal immigration (prior to the president signing his quasi-DREAM Act executive order). Where in this area the trend is the exact opposite of the criticisms leveled against the president. Fox News’ criticisms of the president, using anecdotes, suggests illegal immigrants have been flooding the country since President Obama took office when in fact the in-bound rate has gone done and the deportation rate up.

    So all Ed’s revealed is that the president’s defect rate is greater than zero. That’s hardly helpful in determining his performance given a prediction could have been confidently made prior to any administration entering office in 2009 the defect rate would be well above zero.

  13. 13
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    Michael, you’re exhibiting textbook hyper-skepticism. The idea that a US President might be obfuscating the facts is hardly an extraordinary claim – in fact I would say it’s depressingly mundane. When it comes to politicians the null hypothesis should always be “lying bastard”. Even if you voted for them.

  14. 14
    Michael Heath

    dysomniak writes:

    Michael, you’re exhibiting textbook hyper-skepticism. The idea that a US President might be obfuscating the facts is hardly an extraordinary claim – in fact I would say it’s depressingly mundane. When it comes to politicians the null hypothesis should always be “lying bastard”. Even if you voted for them.

    Well, your conclusion is equivalent to my expectations and approach prior to the Obama presidency; so I’m not sure you think you’re presenting a conclusion any different than mine.

    As for my supposed “hyper-skepticism” I strongly disagree. If Ed was blogging about a conservative criticizing a liberal relying solely on anecdotes this venue would rightfully be all over the conservative’s shit. Instead it’s more popular in this venue to nod our collective heads when Ed points out examples of President Obama’s failure to adhere to liberal objectives (which I also generally support). In this case Ed’s first failed to make the case Obama’s failed on transparency to the degree Ed asserts. For all I know Obama could be the best modern president ever while also distancing himself from the herd at an increasing rate as time passes; or the opposite.

  1. 15
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    [...] requests because they're asking for "state secrets" (or giving you a document with everything redacted, or just lying and saying the requested document doesn't exist). The reason why you can't see the [...]

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