Monday, November 30, 2009

Obama White House Seeks Delay On Declassification

Secret agencies like their secrets secret. Even old secrets. The Boston Globe reported Sunday that “roadblocks” and “turf battles” among government agencies will likely delay the release of millions of pages of documents scheduled to be declassified on December 31. Some date back to World War II.

In spite of President Obama’s pledge to bring new openness to government, the executive order drafted to replace one signed by President Bush in 2003 “is meeting resistance from key national security and intelligence officials, delaying its approval.” To head off the deadline, the new draft order may have to modify the “automatic declassification” provisions of a Bush Executive Order:

Section 3.3(e)(3) By notification to the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office, before the records are subject to automatic declassification, an agency head or senior agency official designated under section 5.4 of this order may delay automatic declassification for up to 3 years for classified records that have been referred or transferred to that agency by another agency less than 3 years before automatic declassification would otherwise be required.

When is “automatic declassification” not automatic? When agency officials can drag their feet indefinitely. To meet the looming deadline, the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News reports, “several agencies would have to forgo a review of the affected historical records, which they are unwilling to do. And so it seems they will simply be excused from compliance.”

According to the Boston Globe:

“They never want to give up their authority,” said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel at the National Security Archive, a research center at George Washington University that collects and publishes declassified information. “The national security bureaucracy is deeply entrenched and is not willing to give up some of the protections they feel they need for their documents.”

Our documents, they need to be reminded. The Globe concludes by acknowledging that even declassification does not render a document public:

Officials estimate that there are 400 million pages of historical documents that have been declassified but remain in government records centers and have not been processed at the National Archives, where the public can view them.

One such document is the official crash report on the B-29 that crashed during a test flight near Waycross, GA in 1948. Writing for the New Jersey Post-Courier in 2003, Matt Katz laid out the details fifty-five years later. The crash killed nine, including three civilian contractors from RCA. The contractors’ widows tried in vain to find out what happened in their husbands’ last moments. After the widows filed a lawsuit charging negligence, the government quashed the case by declaring the official crash report a state secret. United States v. Reynolds (1952) was the landmark case that formally recognized the state secrets privilege.

Only by accident did the daughter of one contractor come across the Air Force accident report – declassified in 2000 – for sale on the Internet. An engine had caught fire. The plane broke apart in mid-air. But there was more, Katz writes: “Failure to follow procedure. Failure to carry out special safety orders. Pilot error. These were the causes identified by the Air Force – all evidence that could have been used 50 years ago to support the claims of negligence.”

There was more:

• Two Air Force orders calling for changes in the exhaust system – "for the purpose of eliminating a definite fire hazard" – were not complied with. The fire began in the exhaust system.

• An Air Force order requiring the inspection of rivets was ignored. Loose rivets may have been a factor in the crash.

• The plane needed "more than the normal amount of maintenance." It had been out of commission because of technical problems 97 of the 189 days before the crash.

The victims’ families in this case only had to wait half a century for their answers from the military. Now, after extensions by presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, America’s secret agencies will get yet another extension from the Obama administration “of an undetermined length - possibly years,” according to the Globe report.

Change deferred. Is it change denied?

(Cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Corporate Ventriloquism

Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake had a dustup a few weeks ago with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) over an amendment to H.R. 3200 that Eshoo sponsored governing the licensing of biologic drugs. Hamsher, a three-time breast cancer survivor, contended that a loophole allowed manufacturers to extend their twelve-year exclusive license to drugs by making minor tweaks to the molecules.

Eshoo got testy about being called out, saying, “My amendment prohibits by its plain language exactly what Ms. Hamsher alleges it would encourage.” But other experts contended that Eshoo didn’t understand the “plain language” of her own amendment, that it said just the opposite of what she thought. Also, Energy and Commerce chair Henry Waxman’s statements supported Jane’s contention that the provision contained a loophole that allowed Big Pharma to “evergreen” its exclusive licenses to biologic medications.

This morning, Marcy Wheeler pointed to an NYT piece describing the pushback from Big Pharma. They worked at getting congresscritters from both sides of the aisle to enter their talking points into the Congressional Record:

Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.

E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans.


Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche, estimates that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points — 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats, an unusual bipartisan coup for lobbyists.


Members of Congress submit statements for publication in the Congressional Record all the time, often with a decorous request to “revise and extend my remarks.” It is unusual for so many revisions and extensions to match up word for word. It is even more unusual to find clear evidence that the statements originated with lobbyists.

It would be nice to see those e-mails, by the way. It makes you wonder who wrote the “plain language” for Eshoo’s anti-evergreening amendment.

(Full disclosure: This writer has had Roche as a client.)

(cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Which Public Is That?

The Beltway cognoscenti keep telling us that a bipartisan solution to health care reform is what the public wants. Just what public is it that's more interested in process than results?

Conventional wisdom says that Obama has failed to make Washington more bipartisan if Democrats ram through a health reform bill without Republican support. That would be the Republican support that House Republican whip Rep. Eric Cantor just swore Democrats will never get. “[N]ot one Republican will vote for this bill," Cantor told a “tea party” crowd on Thursday.

Republican strategist Mike Murphy from Thursday’s Morning Edition (NPR):

… I think the great mistake of the Obama presidency, the thing that has taken his numbers among the critical independents who put him in office from very high to low now, is they were elected as a bipartisan problem solver, almost a post-partisan politician. But from the day they've been in, they got a little drunk on the power and they've governed as a one-party liberal party. It's been more of the Democratic dogma, particularly in the House under Pelosi.

And while they have the pure political power to force some things through with their majorities, the Democrats, in my view, are governing too far to the left. They're losing the middle of the country.

Put aside for a moment the up-is-downisms. The public is disillusioned because, as Murphy suggests, Democrats aren’t being bipartisan enough? Or is it really because they have accomplished too little in trying to placate an avowedly obstructionist opposition party?

Observe the coverage of the off-year elections. It is the end of the honeymoon, says Murphy. The media made it out to be a turning point for the White House -- picking up two House seats is, of course, bad news for the Democrats. It's a wonder television news didn't brand the coverage with a catchy name and trademarked graphics.

This should give health care reformers in Congress pause, suggest our media mavens. Why?

Suspense, drama, conflict and histrionics are the stuff of good TV. One would think the media would be egging on Democrats to use the reconciliation process to pass health care reform – with a public option. Think of the ratings. You ain't seen nothin' yet.

See Rep. John Boehner crying on the House floor, streaking his bronzer! Hear Congresswoman Michele Bachmann declare President Obama the antichrist on the steps of the Capitol! Experience the riveting oratory of Joe the Bummer! Watch conservatives in Congress rend their garments as tea partiers fling themselves onto a pyre of burning Constitutions!

Now that’s must-see TV. So why is our “liberal” media suggesting that that would be the worst that could happen? For whom, exactly? It is because the corporate titans behind mass media have a vested interest in seeing health reform fail?

There are more questions than answers.

What public is it that would rather have a bad bipartisan bill rather than a more robust single-party one? The public that's disenchanted because health reform has not been passed already? The majority of Americans that consistent polling shows want a bill with a public option? The people already suffering under a failed and costly health care system? The pragmatic average Joes who go to see Larry the Cable Guy shout "Git ‘Er Done!" from the stage?

That public is more interested in process than results?

Cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Lions and tigers and "progressives"

We received this second attack flyer on Saturday, just in time for Tuesday's local elections.

Both candidates won handily.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Lucky or Good?

The congressman’s staffer said her goodbyes and left the service desk. The cashier, pleasant-looking and about fifty, had listened to the health care conversation from behind the counter. Now that it was just the two of them, she opened up to my wife.

It has been a bad three years. She had been healthy, she said, until she developed a blood disorder. After the diagnosis, her health insurance was cancelled.

There has been a string of cancers diagnosed in her family – six or seven – including her father. The stress on the family is severe. Her mother had a stroke.

But she is lucky – blessed she said – to have this new job. And in this economy, she’s right. The health benefits are especially good. The women’s clothing company is a big supporter of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure movement to fight breast cancer.

Lucky for her again. Since taking the job, she has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, her employer is supportive.

Because what with her mother’s stroke, she didn’t want to stress her parents further. She avoided telling them about her breast cancer until she began radiation treatments recently.

They say it’s better to be lucky than good. That is employer-based health care in America. The lucky get treatment until they are too sick to work and their employer has to let them go. Business is business.

It is a good thing the cashier likes her new job. She had better not lose it – for any reason. She’ll lose her insurance too.

Wide-eyed, it had never occurred to her that she could call her congressman or senators and tell them her story, that they might actually listen. My wife urged her to visit or call, and soon.

Because very soon, all of America will find out if they’re listening and if we're lucky.

(Cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future.)