Thursday, March 19, 2015
I’m the anti-hoarder. There are not a lot of physical things that I’ve held on to. Earlier this year, in fact, I purged nearly two-thirds of my belongings that I had in storage. Live without stuff for three or four years and all of a sudden it’s really clear about what you want to keep and what you don’t! When it comes to my digital life, however, I’m the opposite. I have every email I’ve ever written or received (sans junk) since 1996. They’re filed by subject, by year – and I go so far as to make sure that every time there’s a major upgrade to Outlook that the old emails are readable. I guess this means I will never hold public office.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee for 2016 has been under fire for not just using a private email account and server – but for taking weeks to speak publicly about why. (And when she finally did she did so from the United Nations - choosing to address the issue on land that technically isn't in the U.S.?!?) President Obama claims he learned of Mrs. Clinton's practice “when everybody else did.” The President of the United States never emailed with his Secretary of State? There are reports that he corresponded with the Secretary of State and it makes sense that he would. I would hope that the Commander in Chief and the country's chief diplomat would actually be in regular dialogue, which today would include email. I certainly look at the “from” line on emails I receive – and while the reason I do so is to see the name it’s natural that you just note the account, especially when you correspond with somebody regularly. It’s rather difficult to believe that not one person in the Executive Branch or the State Department knew that Mrs. Clinton wasn’t using a government sanctioned account. Nobody saw it wasn’t a .gov address?
Secretary Clinton did call on the State Department to release the emails – after they are scrubbed and checked. It’s an interesting tactic since the emails were on a personal server and not government, so she could just release them herself. From a diplomatic perspective everything shouldn't be released, but from a political point of view they should. Secretary Clinton has now advocated both the release of information and the screening of that same information. Sounds and feels an awful lot like the Nixon White House reviewing the tapes before letting anybody hear them. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone has a biting story on the likeness of Hillary Clinton to Richard Nixon. POTUS Radio had a devastating compilation of sound bites inter-spliced together of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Nixon – both speaking about how THEY would determine what was appropriate for the public to hear. After Watergate the country demanded openness.
This week (3/16/15) is the 10th Anniversary of Sunshine Week - a national initiative spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy. To kick off the week the White House unilaterally removed the Freedom Of Information Request regulation that had governed the Executive Branch for 30 years. – Now the White House no longer has to comply with any requests from the press or from the public for information. The decision to eliminate the rule follows six years legal challenges that the administration pursued – all the while stonewalling and not fulfilling the requests of the public.
Fear not, the Administration didn’t ignore the spirit of transparency or let Sunshine Week pass unnoticed. The Department of Justice held an event (on the same day as the White House announcement) which awarded President Obama and Attorney General Holder with awards for fulfilling the campaign promise to have the “most transparent” Presidency in history. This is not an Onion news report or a Jon Stewart skewer – it’s the arrogance of an administration that cares little for openness. No mention was made at the 40-minute ceremony of the DoJ’s attempt to criminalize journalistic practices and threatening to jail reporters as enemies of the state for doing their job.
It’s not just a national issue – it’s local too. In Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin has made a practice of keepinginformation secret. Most recently he ruled that the names of five police officers who were arrested for driving drunk could be kept secret. To celebrate Sunshine week – in an unprecedented move the three newspapers that cover greater Boston (The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and the Patriot Ledger) all ran their own editorials on the same day condemning Galvin and the lack of access to public records.
In my lifetime the world has shrunk and the quantity of information available to each of us on a palm sized device has been stunning. It’s a wide open world that has fueled economic growth, revolutions in distant lands and a rapid change in social mores and behavior. Government is way behind…will they catch up and become more open and transparent? I’m e-dubious.