Obama’s Failed Promise of Transparency

President Barack Obama promised to “usher in a new era of open government” and “a new standard of openness” but as the president reaches the end of his term in office it appears that transparency can be added to the long list of broken promises from this administration.

According to an analysis of open-government requests filed by Bloomberg News, nineteen of 20 cabinet-level agencies failed to reveal the cost of travel by top officials violating the time frame requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. In all, just eight of the 57 federal agencies met Bloomberg’s request for those documents within the 20-day window required by the Act.

Eric Newton, senior adviser at the Knight Foundation, a Miami-based group that promotes citizen engagement, said agencies have no excuse not to rapidly disclose travel costs.

“In a 24/7 world, it should take two days, it should take two hours,” Newton said. “If it’s public, it should be just there.”

“Over the past four years, federal agencies have gone to great efforts to make government more transparent and more accessible than ever, to provide people with information that they can use in their daily lives,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz, who pointed out that Obama received an award for his commitment to open government.

The March 2011 presentation of that award was closed to the press.

There has been much sharper scrutiny on the cost of government since the General Services Administration scandal surfaced that revealed that a 2010 Las Vegas junket, featuring a mind reader and a clown, cost taxpayers more than $823,000. The GSA almost tripled its expenditures for conferences from 2005 to 2010.

Another disturbing trend under the Obama administration is the number of exemptions issued to block the release of information. During the first year of hope and change, cabinet agencies employed a 50 percent jump in exemptions from the last year of the presidency of George W. Bush. That number has since gone down by 21 percent but still remains above any level seen during the Bush administration.

The majority of the exemptions came from the Department of Homeland Security.

Staff shortages and compliance costs are some of the excuses often cited to excuse Obama’s failures to uphold his transparency pledge.

“I don’t think the administration has been very good at all on open-government issues,” said Katherine Meyer, a Washington attorney who has been filing open records requests since the late 1970s. “The Obama administration is as bad as any of them, and to some extent worse.”

Meyer was able to get the $38,000 fee for the Center for Auto Safety’s request of records on the U.S. auto bailout by successfully arguing that the request was in the public interest.

The government’s own website, FOIA.gov, which monitors its response to filings shows that the number of backlogged requests grew 20 percent from 2010 to 2011 to 83,490 filings.

 

Roberto Unger, Obama’s Former Harvard Law School Professor: “The President Must Be Defeated”

One of President Barack Obama’s former college professors took to YouTube recently to rip his former student.

“President Obama must be defeated in the coming election,” said Roberto Unger, a longtime professor at Harvard Law School.

“He has failed to advance the progressive cause in the United States.”

Unger said that Obama must lose the election in order for “the voice of democratic prophecy to speak once again in American life.”

He says that if a Republican wins the presidency, “there will be a cost … in judicial and administrative appointments.” But that “the risk of military adventurism” would be no worse and that “the Democratic Party proposes no new direction.”

“Give the bond markets what they want, bail out the reckless so long as they are also rich, use fiscal and monetary stimulus to make up for the absence of any consequential broadening of economic and educational opportunity, sweeten the pill of disempowerment with a touch of tax fairness, even though the effect of any such tax reform is sure to be modest,” he said. “This is less a project than it is an abdication.”

Secret Obama Admin. Trade Document Exposes More Broken Promises/Foreign Corporate Kowtowing

A document from President Barack Obama’s free trade negotiations with eight Pacific nations has been leaked exposing his intentions to hand radical new political powers to multinational corporations.

The leaked document has been posted on the website of Public Citizen. The leaked information follows complaints from members of Congress that they are not being given the same access to trade documents that corporate officials are.

“The outrageous stuff in this leaked text may well be why U.S. trade officials have been so extremely secretive about these past two years of [trade] negotiations,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has introduced legislation requiring further disclosure while House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has posted a separate document from the talks on his website. Other Senators are considering writing a letter to Ron Kirk, the top trade negotiator under Obama, demanding more disclosure.

The newly leaked document addresses a broad sweep of regulations governing international investment and reveals the Obama administration’s advocacy for policies that environmental activists, financial reform advocates and labor unions have long rejected for eroding key protections currently in domestic laws.

Under the agreement the Obama administration would allow foreign corporations operating within the U.S. to appeal key legal or regulatory rulings on the environment, banking and other issues to an international tribunal. That tribunal would be granted the power to overrule American law and impose trade sanctions on the United States for failing to abide by its rulings.

Yet again the president is breaking a promise he made during the 2008 campaign.

“We will not negotiate bilateral trade agreements that stop the government from protecting the environment, food safety, or the health of its citizens; give greater rights to foreign investors than to U.S. investors; require the privatization of our vital public services; or prevent developing country governments from adopting humanitarian licensing policies to improve access to life-saving medications,” reads the campaign document.

“Bush was better than Obama on this,” said Judit Rius, U.S. manager of Doctors Without Borders Access to Medicines Campaign, referring to the medication rules. “It’s pathetic, but it is what it is. The world’s upside-down.”

In a statement provided to HuffPost, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative downplayed the concerns.

“This administration is committed to ensuring strong environmental, public health and safety laws,” said USTR spokesperson Nkenge Harmon. “Nothing in our TPP investment proposal could impair our government’s ability to pursue legitimate, non-discriminatory public interest regulation, including measures to protect public health, public safety and the environment.”

Trans-Pacific negotiations have been taking place throughout the Obama presidency. The deal is strongly supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the top lobbying group for American corporations. Obama’s Republican opponent in the 2012 presidential elections, Mitt Romney, has urged the U.S. to finalize the deal as soon as possible.

12 Secret Service Agents Escorting Pres. Obama Relieved of Duty Amid Allegations of Misconduct

A dozen Secret Service agents with President Obama at an international summit have been relieved of duty due to allegations of misconduct.

The Associated Press confirmed they received an anonymous tip that the misconduct revolved around prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia, the site of the Summit of the Americas.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, put the number of agents involved at twelve.

The White House had no comment.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan would not confirm or deny that prostitution was involved, saying only that there had been “allegations of misconduct” made against Secret Service personnel in the Colombian port city.

He also said that the allegations of misconduct were related to activity that occurred before the president’s arrival Friday night.

Obama was attending a leaders’ dinner Friday night at Cartagena’s historic Spanish fortress. He is due to attend summit meetings with regional leaders Saturday and Sunday.

Those involved have been sent back to their permanent place of duty and were replaced by other agency personnel. The ensuing investigation is being handled by the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

“These personnel changes will not affect the comprehensive security plan that has been prepared in advance of the president’s trip,” Donovan said.

Obama’s Unprecedented Super Duper PAC

President Barack Obama’s Priorities USA Action, along with the Democratic Senate’s Super PAC, Majority PAC, and the Democratic House Majority PAC are combining to form the country’s first-ever joint fundraising Super PAC, Unity 2012.

An FEC official said that there aren’t any regulations prohibiting this kind of fundraising, but confirmed that it’s unprecedented.

“This joint effort is basically a convenience for donors who are looking to participate in more than one progressive organization,” says Bill Burton, senior strategist for Priorities USA Action.

Anthony Corrado, a campaign finance expert at the Brookings Instituition says the fund raising strategy is similar to the PAC strategy used by Democrats in 2004, which consolidated the efforts of otherwise competing progressive groups.

“You can envision a situation where given a limited number of Democratic checks. This way Democrats can go to these donors with a unified front,” Corrado says. “This is a way they can approve their efficiency and effectiveness of their fundraising. This is a way they can hold joint events.”

Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert at Public Citizen, a government transparency group, says it is likely the Democratic Super PACs are uniting in hopes that they will out-raise GOP Super PACs.

“It is certainly an interesting experiment,” Holman says. “It is being touted as one-stop shopping for voters who want to support Democrats generally, but it seems to be born out of the weakness of the individual Democratic PACs.”

Holman says joint fundraising committees are ubiquitous within traditional PACs that have contribution limits, but with the Citizens United ruling, Super PACs face no restrictions in fundraising, making this kind of joint committee fundraising repetitive.

“This may help fundraising for the Democratic party, but I don’t see it becoming a common feature for the other group,” Holman says. “Technically, there are no other big advantages. They can already raise unlimited money.”

FEC rules require joint committees to clearly state how funds will be dispersed between various Super PACs, but so far Unity 2012 has not made that information available.

Job-Creation Bill Destroys U.S. Shareholder Protections

The Republican-led House voted 390-23 to approve legislation that would among other things undo a ban on closely held firms soliciting investments, increase the number of investors such firms can have and exempt newly public companies with less than $1 billion in revenue from some reporting requirements of the Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley laws.

Consumer advocates and former regulators say the legislation is an evisceration of investor protections that have been in place since the 1930s.

President Barack Obama has backed the bill as a way to help spur job creation, and Senate Democrats have said they will move quickly to write-up their own version.

Supporters of the legislation include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, New York-based exchange operators Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. (NDAQ) and NYSE Euronext. They say the bill targets rules that impede economic growth by making it more difficult for companies to raise capital or conduct initial public offerings. That view has won support from Democrats including Senator Charles Schumer of New York.

“I do think Congress has an ongoing obligation to ask whether the policy framework for public offering is striking the right balance between facilitating capital formation on the one hand, and attempting to protect the investors on the other,” Schumer said at a March 7 Senate hearing, citing a “drastic decline” in the number of U.S. IPOs since the 1990s. “That’s always a needle we have to thread.”

Opponents, including former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt and Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America, say this approach will hurt investors and will not achieve the stated goal.

“You don’t increase jobs growth by rolling back regulatory protections, and it’s frankly bewildering that the Democrats have been so willing to buy into the traditional Republican argument,” Roper said in an interview.

Mary Schapiro, SEC Chairman, “believes that portions of the legislation either unnecessarily eliminate important investor protections or are not balanced with sufficient safeguards,”John Nester, an agency spokesman, said in a statement.

The bill includes a provision that would de-regulates analyst research in a way that “could take us back to the conflicted practices of the dot-com bubble,” Nester added.

There is also a provision that would permit companies to raise capital by soliciting and pooling investments online. An SEC small-business advisory committee that reviewed some of the legislative ideas rejected crowdfunding last month, saying it could foster fraud.

Another proposal would give companies with less than $1 billion in revenue an easier “on ramp” to SEC registration. That would represent a “fundamental reduction in the level of transparency and regulation for companies going public,” said Lynn E. Turner, a former SEC chief accountant., who is now managing director of Litinomics Inc., an economic and legal consulting firm.

So-called “emerging growth” companies taking advantage of the on ramp would avoid audits of their finances for up to five years and would be required to file no more than two years of audited financial statements in order to register.

“A billion dollars in gross revenue is nearly everybody,” Roper said. “You’re talking about allowing most companies that go public to go public without meeting these basic standards.”

Rep. John P. Sarbanes of Maryland, one of 23 Democratic opponents in the House, warned colleagues in a letter that the bill could lead to “Enron-Type fraud”.

Senate Democrats, who have been meeting to craft their version of the bill, have said they will address some of the concerns raised.

 

 

CBO Report: Real unemployment at 15%

President Barack Obama has been touting the recovering economy as part of his bid for reelection this November, but the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), have released a new report that reveals a very poor outlook on the future of America’s economy.

The Department of Labor claims that the unemployment rate dropped from 8.5% in December 2011 to 8.3% in January 2012, but the CBO report states that, The official unemployment rate excludes those individuals who would like to work but have not searched for a job in the past four weeks as well as those who are working part-time but would prefer full-time work; if those people were counted among the unemployed, the unemployment rate in January 2012 would have been about 15 percent.

These numbers reflect the actual status of labor in the country that many outside of the mainstream media have been pointing to as indicators of the overall health of the economy.

The rate of unemployment, according to the White House, has been above 8% since February 2009, making the past three years under President Obama the longest stretch of high unemployment in the United States since the Great Depression.

Additionally, the CBO reports that the unemployment rate in America will stay above 8% through the election of 2012 and even until 2014.

“…the unemployment rate will remain above 8 percent until 2014. The share of unemployed people who have been looking for work for more than six months — referred to as the long-term unemployed — topped 40 percent in December 2009 and has remained above that level ever since.”

When Obama took office in 2009, the official rate was 7.8%. He promised to keep unemployment under 8%, but only three years into his administration has it finally dropped below 9%.

Historically, presidents do not get re-elected with unemployment over 7.2%.