A Government Stamped "Classified" Sets a New Record
The Bush administration
believes that government is none of our business. Under George
W Bush, aided by his executive orders that have extended certain
areas of classification, we have seen an explosion in the
number of documents marked not just “Secret” or“Top
Secret”, but a proliferation of new coinages, according to The New York Times, using vague words such as "sensitive".
So many inconsequential documents are routinely
classified that even the chief of Information Security Oversight, the office
that oversees classification practices, describes the system as "a hodgepodge
of laws, regulations and direction".
Bush Passes Out "Secret" Stamps
A major cause is that President Bush bestowed the “Secret” stamp on new regions of government Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the White House Office of Science and Technology raising to over 4,000 the number of government positions with the power to hide information from the public.
And hide it from Congress. An increasing number of Congress members on both sides
of the aisle have protested that they cannot perform their mandated job of overseeing
the executive branch. The problem even drove Trent Lott (R, Ms), hardly a Bush
adversary, to pair with Roy Wyden (D, Or) in a New York Times op-ed
piece to propose the establishment of a classification board “to bring some common
sense to bear on the national security classification system".
Co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Thomas Kean,
said three quarters of the information they had seen should
not have been classified in the first place. By the end of
2002, some 23 million had
acquired these stamps. The number rose to 14.2 million “classification
actions” for 2003 alone, a huge surge that was 60% more than 2001 and double the
count of 10 years before.2004 set a new record with 15.6 documents
hidden from view.
The Boys in the Bubble: Presidential Access Denied
John Dean, White House counsel under Nixon, says "Once
ensconced in their offices at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they quietly closed their
doors, pulled the shades, and began making themselves increasingly inaccessible
to the media and Congress while demanding complete control over government information."
New York Times White House correspondent Elisabeth Bumiller says, "The Reagan administration coddled us; this crowd has a wall up".
Most attribute this disdain for public meddling to Cheney, who early on indoctrinated
the normally gregarious but inexperienced Bush.
Matt Davies The Journal News United Features Syndicate
In a January '04 New Yorker piece, Ken Auletta said Bush acknowledged
that he doesn't read newspapers ("he skims"), except for the sports pages,
nor watches much television. Nor did Nixon, who also had his view
of the world filtered by the White House staff. Nor does Bush
want that staff to interact with the press corps. A press secretary
is meant to act as an intermediary between the President and the press corps,
but a Bush loyalist was quoted as saying that this President "wants the
press secretary to be an automaton",
unfailingly "on message".
Bush has held fewer press conferences than any predecessor. And it is no accident
that this White House doesn't even leak (with one notorious exception).
Limiting contact to people that agree with them
The result is a president who insulates himself from what the public is thinking,
even to the point of screening those permitted to come into his presence. As
the press reported, to gain entrance to a Bush campaign rally, devotees had
to prove their fealty with a loyalty oath. In these Karl Rove productions, we
thus saw on the nightly news only madly cheering audiences and never a discouraging
word. Accommodating local police herded any protesters a mile or so away to wave
their placards at no one, well out of ear shot of television microphones.
Dick Cheney is even more agoraphobic, tending to speak not even to pre-screened hoi polloi, but folks who never change their mind, like the Heritage Foundation. Even then he permits no questions.
It Can Get Ugly
One attendee at a Bush campaign rally in New Jersey wore a T-shirt with an anti-Bush message and was arrested, evoking images of jackboots and 1939.
Worse was yet to come.
A straight-A Yale student was arrested at the Republican
Convention for getting too close to Cheney while shouting anti-war statements.
Cheney was never in danger, but the student was charged with mis-demeanors that
could bring one-year prison terms.
A couple wearing T-shirts with a contrary message at a rally on public space, the steps of the capital building in Charleston W.VA, were told to "take the shirts off or get out" and were escorted away to the applause of the crowd.
Sue Niederer, 55, wore a T-shirt reading "President Bush You Killed My Son" and dared to speak out at a Laura Bush rally, shouting, why weren't the Bush twins serving in Iraq "if it's such a justified war"?
Here was a mother who had lost her son in this war, surrounded by Stepford security moms, whose sons were evidently safe in their beds, yelling "four more years" at her. She was handcuffed and arrested and now faces charges for saying she'd like to shoot Bush. She’s hardly alone.
The Energy Task Force Saga:
Dick Cheney Takes Secrecy All the Way to the Supremes
Shortly after inauguration
in 2001 Vice President Dick Cheney convened the National Energy
Policy Development Group to draft the energy policy of the
United States. It was carte-blanche payback time for the energy
companies that had so generously financed the Bush/Cheney campaign,
so there was no point inviting those pesky environmental sorts. The suspicion
is that the energy group consisted solely of representatives
of the oil, gas, coal and even nuclear industries to carve out a policy
that would relax environmental restrictions and include huge
A Simple Request: Who Were the Members of the Group?
Representative Henry Waxman (D, Ca) wanted to find out in behalf of his state what lay behind California’s energy crisis. At his request, the General Accounting Office (GAO) tried five times to get the list of participants from Cheney. GAO comptroller general David Walker said that no prior administration had ever challenged the GAO's authority.
The liberal Sierra Club joined the rightist Judicial Watch to sue for access to the names, citing the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which holds that, if advisors are private citizens, as opposed to federal employees, their identities must be revealed so that the public knows who is trying to influence the government. In response, in the words of right-wing New York Times columnist Bill Safire, "Cheney’s lawyers dumped 30,000 pieces of wastepaper on them from around the bureaucracy, but not one memo produced by Cheney’s group", which put forth the preposterous lie that the group consisted of nothing but federal employees.
(Cheney himself would later admit that he and his aides met
with Enron executives six times. One meeting with CEO Kenneth Lay took place
the day before Cheney announced that the administration would not support price
caps on the sale of wholesale electricity to California to rescue that state
from its energy meltdown. It would later come to light that Enron had manipulated
the market to hold back supplies so as to drive up energy prices. So compromised
was the Bush administration that its officials held Enron stock, and even got
Enron's blessing for the two Bush appointees to the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission, which oversees the markets in which Enron operates.)
The trial court needed to know the members of the group in order to decide whether there had been a violation of the Act. It promised to keep the information confidential. Cheney refused nonetheless. He invoked executive privilege and the case escalated to the Supreme Court.
If It Quacks Like a Duck
With the Supreme Court about to hear the case, Justice Antonin Scalia climbed aboard Air Force Two to go duck hunting in Louisiana with Cheney, even accepting free travel for three. The Los Angeles Times discovered he had done much the same before, going pheasant hunting with the dean of the University of Kansas Law School just before he was to argue a case before the high court.
Universally called upon to recuse himself for reasons too obvious to bother to state, Scalia refused, finding “no basis for recusal” and considering himself incorruptible. The Supreme Court, which passes judgment on everyone else, finds its own above reproach and leaves recusal up to the individual justice. “If it is reasonable to think that a Supreme Court justice can be bought so cheap, the nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined”, Scalia announced to a nation that thinks itself in deeper trouble than he imagines, given a court that routinely splits 4-4 on partisan lines, with only the 9th justice deciding cases on their merits, Sandra Day O'Connor.
That is, except when it wants to duck (pun unavoidable) an issue altogether, which it did in the Cheney case, voting 7-2 to send the case back to a lower court, much as it had tiptoed past the disputed “under God” suffix tacked onto the Pledge of Allegiance.
Checks and Balances Be Damned
Cheney's refusal simply to admit whom he had met with and his taking the case to the top of the judicial pyramid represent a seriously troubling departure from the vitally important balance between the branches of the federal government. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman raised a troubling specter:
"We're at risk with our democracy. I think we're dealing with the most closed, imperialistic, nastiest administration in living memory".
He sees in Cheney's example: “a doctrine that makes the United States a sort of elected dictatorship: a system in which the president [or vice president]…can do whatever he likes, and isn’t obliged to consult either Congress or the public.”