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Troubling evidence

President Obama continues White House secrecy

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Last November the United States went through what Iran is going through right now—only we didn't have to die in the streets for it. We, the voters, tossed the Republican Party off the bus, elected a new "hope and change" president, gave the Democrats the majority control of Congress they said they needed to implement change, and looked forward to seeing it all happen. That was then. This is now. And with each passing day, the change we hoped for is being sidelined, denied and derailed.

When Barack Obama was on the campaign trail, he made a lot of promises that, so far, he's having a tough time keeping. One of those promises was made by pointing out the policies of President Bush and Vice President Cheney on keeping secret the list of those who participated in the administration's notorious "Energy Task Force." Despite court battles to gain access to that information, Bush and Cheney claimed "executive privilege" so it never was released to the public and, now that Bush and Cheney are gone, may never be made public.

What that means is that the major energy companies got to craft a policy for the citizens of this country without ever having their fingerprints on the end product. What we did know was that Dick Cheney had been raking in millions as the CEO of Halliburton prior to stepping into the White House and, therefore, it was no real surprise that he would use his position of power to benefit his cohorts in the energy business.

But now, instead of bringing the transparency to public policy formulation that he so fervently promised, President Obama—and some key members of Congress—continues to follow the secrecy patterns of the miscreant administration he replaced.

Among the more troubling evidence in this regard is Obama's recent decision to keep the tapes of the Bush-Cheney tortures of "enemy combatants" from being disclosed. The reason? Well, if you believe the CIA's logic, it's because if people in the rest of the world saw what the United States actually did to those prisoners, they would be outraged and endanger our troops around the globe. So that part of the truth, which the world already knows and which is leftover trash from the Bush years, will remain under wraps.

Likewise, the Obama administration, via the Secret Service and Homeland Security, has recently denied a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and MSNBC for access to the visitor logs of who is spending time behind those closed doors, cutting deals for the energy industries and, more directly, for coal companies. To figure that out, CREW requested all the likely sources of that information, such as e-mails and phone logs, as well as the visitor log.

To quote from CREW's FOIA request: "Specifically, the requested records are likely to contribute to the public's understanding of the influence that executives of the 10 largest coal production companies within the United States have had, or attempted to have, on the president and his administration in formulating the nation's energy policy, especially with respect to domestic coal production, coal-based electricity, carbon capture, clean coal technology funding, and climate change."

It is somewhat puzzling to find the Obama administration using the exact same dodge as Bush and Cheney to deny public access to find out who is influencing energy policy decisions behind closed doors. The results, however, seem clear. King Coal is back in the game, big time, including billions of dollars for the evasive, perhaps fictional, illusion that coal can somehow be made clean.

The influence of those discussions is also evident in efforts to weaken the already watered-down Waxman-Markey climate bill that, like so many others, shoves the goals for reducing global climate gases ever out into the future as the impacts grow more visible by the day.

Here in Montana, that's not good news. Well, it may be good news to some, like Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who continues to push energy development of any and all sources, including coal. But anyone who has driven around the state recently can see the sad reality for themselves in the growing mass of dead and dying trees that once flourished on our mountains. Arguments about forest health are, or should be, over. What we're dealing with, thanks to global warming and the continued use of coal, is how to deal with forest death—because that's what's left, dead forests. For Montanans, any discussion of future energy policies is directly linked to our personal living space, not some abstract theories, and we deserve to know what's going on at the highest levels of our government.

Unfortunately, unknown influence by the energy sector is just part of the continuing plague of secrecy that haunts Washington. Just this week both Obama and Montana's Sen. Max Baucus announced that they had held secret discussions with drug manufacturers in which the pharmaceutical industry apparently pledged to slow future increases in runaway drug costs by tens of billions in the coming years. But this wasn't some altruistic decision by the companies that prey on the illness of Americans, it was a quid pro quo "deal" that any health care reform measure coming out of Congress and signed by Obama would heed the objections from Big Pharma.

Unfortunately, given the level of secrecy now being employed in the development of some of the most important public policy decisions in decades, it's impossible to know for sure who made what promises and what they received in return. And that's a shame.

We elected Obama on the promise of change. He repudiated the Bush policies while campaigning and rode the national disgust with them all the way to the White House. It's well past time for Obama to live up to those campaign promises and end, once and for all, the despicable secrecy policies of the Bush-Cheney era. The Cave:Advertising:02 Production Art:IndyLogoDingbat2002.tifB:'oing on ",,"")>

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