January 10, 2002

Is there room for the Freedom of Information Act in U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's America?

See: On the Public's Right to Know The day Ashcroft censored Freedom of Information, an SF Gate Editorial Opinion. (Thanks, John)

No one disputes that we must safeguard our national security. All of us want to protect our nation from further acts of terrorism. But we must never allow the public's right to know, enshrined in the Freedom of Information Act, to be suppressed for the sake of official convenience.

Here's another quote from the same piece:

Consider, for example, just a few of the recent revelations -- obtained through FOIA requests -- that newspapers and nonprofit watchdog groups have been able to publicize during the last few months:

  • The Washington-based Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization, has been able to publish lists of recipients who have received billions of dollars in federal farm subsidies. Their Web site, www.ewg.org, has not only embarrassed the agricultural industry, but also allowed the public to realize that federal money -- intended to support small family farmers -- has mostly enhanced the profits of large agricultural corporations.

  • The Charlotte Observer has been able to reveal how the Duke Power Co., an electric utility, cooked its books so that it avoided exceeding its profit limits. This creative accounting scheme prevented the utility from giving lower rates to 2 million customers in North Carolina and South Carolina.

  • USA Today was able to uncover and publicize a widespread pattern of misconduct among the National Guard's upper echelon that has continued for more than a decade. Among the abuses documented in public records are the inflation of troop strength, the misuse of taxpayer money, incidents of sexual harassment and the theft of life-insurance payments intended for the widows and children of Guardsmen.

  • The National Security Archive, a private Washington-based research group,

  • has been able to obtain records that document an unpublicized event in our history. It turns out that in 1975, President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gave Indonesian strongman Suharto the green light to invade East Timor, an incursion that left 200,000 people dead.

  • By examining tens of thousands of public records, the Associated Press has been able to substantiate the long-held African American allegation that white people -- through threats of violence, even murder -- cheated them out of their land. In many cases, government officials simply approved the transfer of property deeds. Valued at tens of million of dollars, some 24,000 acres of farm and timber lands, once the property of 406 black families, are now owned by whites or corporations.

These are but a sample of the revelations made possible by recent FOIA requests. None of them endanger the national security. It is important to remember that all classified documents are protected from FOIA requests and unavailable to the public.

Yet these secrets have exposed all kinds of official skullduggery, some of which even violated the law. True, such revelations may disgrace public officials or even result in criminal charges, but that is the consequence -- or shall we say, the punishment -- for violating the public trust.

Looks like the first scandal of President Bush's career is going to be a doozy.

Keep your eyes out for one word in the headlines over the next few months:
drumroll please...
Enron (link goes to CBS Marketwatch page).

See an enlightening editorial on the subject by David Callaway for CBS MarketWatch.com:
Enron is not Bush's Whitewater: It will be worse.

Don't expect to see either Bush or Vice President Cheney directly linked to the financial shenanigans that brought Enron down. They won't be. This is not about finding a smoking gun, as much as some Democrats might wish it were.

What it is about, and what the public will get to hear and read about in wrenching detail over the coming months, is how business gets done down in Texas. How a small group of business leaders exert enormous clout over Bush and his team in getting the rules changed to their benefit.

It will explain why Bush has locked up presidential records, locked out any voices opposed to his pro-business agenda and rammed through an expensive economic plan that wiped out the budget surplus but to date hasn't had any positive effect on the economy.

It will explain what influence Enron Chief Executive Ken Lay and his advisers had with Cheney and his energy task force when they met six times last year while the vice president was putting together the administration's energy policy.

And it will explain why Bush is now thinking about acting on a proposal from that very task force that seeks to roll back a key provision of the Clean Air Act that helps keep factory pollution down by requiring new controls when old plants are upgraded.

January 09, 2002

Here's a neat collection of airplane barf bags from all over the world, courtesy of Michael D. Cooper.

There's a long overdue Patent System Reform conference going on at the UC Berkeley Campus March 1-2, 2002.

The conference is hosted by The Berkeley Center for Law & Technology and The Berkeley Technology Law Journal.

I'll be there with bells on! Hope to see you all there!

Greetings readers! Many apologies for not blogging for a week! I've been working on my graduate school applications to the School of Information Management and Systems at UC Berkeley and the Department of Communication at Stanford. Wish me luck!

I'm back now and I have a huge backlog of cool stuff! Thanks for checking back!