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State of the Union address less than transparent on president's transparency failures

January 30, 2012 - Mike Maneval
President Barack Obama's State of the Union address last week touched on many topics - energy and natural gas development, manufacturing and job growth, trade, taxes, the successful killing of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, and responsible lending to homeowners, among others.

But one topic that did not surface was transparency, and for a reason any voter, with enough cynicism, can understand: On reforming the White House culture of secrecy, the Obama administration is failing, and has been failing consistently for three years.

Salon writer Glenn Greenwald - perhaps one of the most effective critics of the administration - was detailing some of the ways the Obama White House already was falling short as early as June, 2009. Greenwald's column noted reports in the New York Times and The Atlantic about Obama's embrace of "state secrets" privileges and a February report in Huffington Post explaining administration efforts to hide White House emails. The efforts to impose secrecy went well beyond matters of national security, Greenwald observed, including efforts to keep the locations of more than 40 coal ash waste sites secret despite the Environmental Protection Agency's claims the sites posed health risks to Americans living in their vicinity. Greenwald further notes on at least two issues - the "state secrets" privileges and efforts to stymie access to White House visitors' logs - Obama was breaking explicit promises made on the campaign trail.

Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post, also writing in the summer of 2009, noted another example of the president's failure on transparency - efforts to hide a memo arguing enhanced interrogation techniques were unproductive in securing useful information. And the two years since have seen little - if any - improvement. An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal found criticism coming from across the reform-minded spectrum, with Judicial Watch's Tom Fitton saying the Obama administration is less transparent than the Bush White House and Anne Weismann of the Center for Responsibility for Ethics in Washington saying, "applications of the (new transparency) policies do not exist."

Perhaps no better example of Obama's shortcomings on transparency can be found than a report at the Huffington Post in March of 2011, which began, "President Barack Obama accepted an award for making the government more open and transparent -­ presented to him behind closed doors with no media coverage or public access allowed."

 
 

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