S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Doing the Public's Business -

Just what is "the public's business?" It is the work of government for which we in the public pay taxes. It is information the public has a right to know. It is about what the government does in our names. It is about government officials' accountability for what they do as public employees. Today's post explores the news about how the current administration is doing, and not doing, the public's business.
Public information by any rational definition - Vice-President Cheney is among the most secretive elected officials in memory. He has been so successful with this style that the Supreme Court upheld his right to keep secret his early public/secret meeting records about energy. It is unclear why Mr. Cheney and his visitors are not doing the public's business. That could be the only rational reason why such information is not "public." For the government to claim that these records are "presidential" and thus private begs the question. The logic of that is head-spinning. The latest story/headline is from MyWay: "White House Follows New Path to Secrecy." To quote,
A newly disclosed effort to keep Vice President Dick Cheney's visitor records secret is the latest White House push to make sure the public doesn't learn who has been meeting with top officials in the Bush administration.
. . . The administration is seeking dismissal of two lawsuits by a private group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, demanding Secret Service visitor logs.
In trying to get the cases thrown out, the Justice Department has filed documents in court outlining a behind-the-scenes debate over whether Secret Service records are subject to public disclosure. The discussions date back at least to the administration of President Bush's father and involve the Justice Department and the National Archives as well as the White House and the Secret Service.
. . . "The scary thing about this move by the vice president's office is the power grab part of it," said Tom Blanton, head of the National Security Archive, a private group which uses the FOIA law to pierce government secrecy.
"We're looking at a huge problem if the White House can reach into any agency and say certain records have something to do with the White House and they are presidential from now on," Blanton said. "This White House has been infinitely creative in finding new ways and new forms of government secrecy."
Accountability for unauthorized disclosures of information to the public - Our current president (OCP) and too many members of his administration want to have it both ways. Some in the White House wanted to disclose a legitimate government secret - the identity of a protected CIA operative - to do political harm to their opponent, Joseph Wilson, the operative's spouse. So far, Lewis "Scooter" Libby is the only one who has potential (though tangential) accountability for the plan carried out by Bush officials. And at the same time, the CIA is making incredibly convoluted claims of the right to silence their former operative, Valerie Plame. The logic of that is head-spinning. Here is the story from the New York Times, with the headline, - "Plame Sues C.I.A. for Blocking Her Memoir," from which I quote,
Valerie Wilson, the former intelligence operative at the heart of an investigation that reached into the White House, sued the Central Intelligence Agency in federal court in New York yesterday over its refusal to allow her to publish a memoir that would discuss how long she had worked for the agency.
Although that information is set out in an unclassified letter to Ms. Wilson that has been published in the Congressional Record, the C.I.A. contends that her dates of service remain classified and may not be mentioned in “Fair Game,” the memoir Ms. Wilson hopes to publish in October.
. . . First Amendment challenges to decisions by the C.I.A concerning its former employees’ proposed books and articles have not met with much success in the courts, which tend to focus on the terms of the employment agreements and to defer to the agency’s judgments about what information should be withheld from the public. But Ms. Wilson’s suit, which is narrowly focused on information already published in the Congressional Record, presents the more difficult question of when information that was once secret has entered the public record.
The C.I.A. acknowledged that the dates of Ms. Wilson’s employment had mistakenly been disclosed, although a spokesman said that did not mean the information was no longer classified.
Public officials communicate opinions in a court case - People on government salaries are paid to do the public's business. Private friendships and loyalties might develop as a result, but all in this case are still doing the public's business with taxpayer dollars. Any among the 150 persons writing to the court about Libby were dealing with a public case. We do not sanction "star chamber" courts in the U.S. (except at Guantanamo Bay, of course). Libby's case is not his private matter. He was a public official, and thus acting in our names. And the public official letter-writers are also accountable. MyWay headlined this story, "Judge to Release Letters in Libby Case." Quoting from the article,
A federal judge said Thursday he will release more than 150 letters he received regarding next week's sentencing of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
. . . Libby opposed release of the letters, saying the writers never expected their words to be made public. Attorneys for several news organizations, including The Associated Press, responded last week by saying the law required the letters be released. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton agreed, citing a need for transparency.
"The court has received more than 150 sentencing letters in this case, some urging leniency for the defendant and some expressing opprobrium at the defendant's actions and calling for the imposition of a substantial prison sentence," Walton wrote.
Cheney recently called Libby's conviction "a great tragedy" but a spokeswoman for the vice president would not say whether Cheney wrote a letter to the court. White House press secretary Tony Snow said he did not know whether President Bush wrote a letter.
The next few months of doing the public's business has entered an interesting phase called an election campaign. It will culminate in the fall of 2008 when we hire a new set of folks to handle our business. Right now we are in the interview process, screening candidates, and looking over their qualifications for the jobs they want. We have a right to all the information we need to do our jobs as informed voters. That is the bargain our founding fathers set out in the constitution.
  1. Secrecy News - from the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy. Today's post is about the TB story.
  2. Electronic Frontier Foundation - defending freedom in a digital world. Today's post is about Senator Jon Kyle's secret "hold" on a bill designed to combat government secrecy.
  3. Part-Time Policy Wonk - Casting an eye on government information policies. Today's post: CRS Report - Access to Government Information In the United States. Available from the Project on Government Secrecy:
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