Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A little death of change

One of first and chief complaints against the Darth Vader presidency of Dick Cheney and his puppet W. was the refusal to disclose who (specifically which energy industry execs) met with the Vader to discuss what would become the White House's energy policy and goals. The Vaders declared that these were essentially confidential matters that were outside the need to know of the public. Ultimately, they were supported by the courts.

This flew in the face of everything I'd been taught in communications law, that information is assumed public unless a compelling reason (national security, chiefly) can be demonstrated to keep information private.

Throughout his campaign for president Barack Obama repeatedly criticized the Vaders for conducting business outside the scrutiny of the public's view. And yet, now Barack and co. have decided to kill some of the hope and change that they have been squandering throughout the first seven months (waiting forever to stand up for hardly any rights for same-sex couples and still refusing to support same-sex marriage) ... by refusing to disclose which health care industry execs have met with White House staff to shape the massive overhaul of our broken health care system.

Here's an exerpt from the L.A. Times story:

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sent a letter to the Secret Service asking about visits from 18 executives representing health insurers, drug makers, doctors and other players in the debate. The group wants the material in order to gauge the influence of those executives in crafting a new healthcare policy.
The Secret Service sent a reply stating that documents revealing the frequency of such visits were considered presidential records exempt from public disclosure laws. The agency also said it was advised by the Justice Department that the Secret Service was within its rights to withhold the information because of the "presidential communications privilege."

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics said it would file suit against the Obama administration as early as today. The group already has sued the administration over its failure to release details about visits from coal industry executives.

and more ...

As a candidate, President Obama vowed that in devising a healthcare bill he would invite in TV cameras -- specifically C-SPAN -- so that Americans could have a window into negotiations that normally play out behind closed doors.

Having promised transparency, the administration should be willing to disclose who it is consulting in shaping healthcare policy, said an attorney for the citizens' group. In its letter requesting the records, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics asked about visits from Billy Tauzin, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans; William Weldon, chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson; and J. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Assn., among others.

"It's extremely disappointing," said Anne Weismann, the group's chief counsel. Obama is relying on a legal argument that "continues one of the bad, anti-transparency, pro-secrecy approaches that the Bush administration had taken. And it seems completely at odds with the president's commitment . . . to bring a new level of transparency to his government."


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