Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Secrecy, corruption, and gas

Where there's secrecy, there's corruption. And when there's corruption, the rest of us wind up paying for it.

These simple facts of life are the reason we have open-government laws, many of them passed in the 1970s in response to the corruption of the Nixon regime. But the Bush administration, as I pointed out long ago, has been operating on the basis of expanding executive powers since the get-go:
Certainly in many other areas -- particularly the aggressive assertion of executive powers in setting up military tribunals and designating citizens "enemy combatants," as well as various surveillance powers under the so-called Patriot Acts -- the Bush White House has displayed all the signs of attempting to reacquire powers lost to the executive branch in the 1970s ... a belated "Nixon's revenge," as it were.

As John Dean (who would know) pointed out to Joel Connelly, this was the case even before 9/11:
"They moved in, pulled the shades and closed the doors," Dean said. "I can't find another presidency so positioned from the start to expanding the powers of the presidency."

The chief way it has done so is by lowering a veil of secrecy over everything it does. And secrecy, as always, has begotten corruption.

Likewise, we are all now paying for it. The tip of the iceberg: Gas prices.

The Bushian veil of secrecy is finally starting to falter. Glenn Greenwald (whose forthcoming book will be required reading) has been all over this, of course, particularly the recent Boston Globe stories revealing that "Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office."

Nearly as valuable, I thought, were the stories this weekend in the Chicago Tribune detailing how Dick Cheney has played such a significant role in this:
A standing executive order, strengthened by President Bush in 2003, requires all agencies and "any other entity within the executive branch" to provide an annual accounting of their classification of documents. More than 80 agencies have collectively reported to the National Archives that they made 15.6 million decisions in 2004 to classify information, nearly double the number in 2001, but Cheney continues to insist he is exempt.

Explaining why the vice president has withheld even a tally of his office's secrecy when such offices as the National Security Council routinely report theirs, a spokeswoman said Cheney is "not under any duty" to provide it.

The most significant episode came early:
The White House has resisted efforts by Congress to gain information, starting with a White House energy task force headed by Cheney and continuing with the president's secret authorization of warrantless surveillance of people inside the United States suspected of communicating with terrorists abroad. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) recently threatened to withhold funding for the surveillance program unless the White House starts providing information.

... Bush has a partner -- some say mentor -- in Cheney, who from the start resisted efforts to disclose the inner workings of a task force devising administration energy policy. He defeated an unprecedented lawsuit by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, to unveil that task force and carried his fight successfully to the Supreme Court.

The resulting "energy plan" was entirely predictable. As the Natural Resources Defense Council put it in its subsequent study of the plan:
President Bush's energy plan offers a smorgasbord of incentives for the energy industry, emphasizing the need to increase domestic fossil fuel supplies and renewing a commitment to nuclear power. The administration's proposal -- prepared by Vice President Cheney's energy task force -- also includes modest proposals related to energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. However, it is clear that, as Mr. Cheney stressed in a recent speech, the Bush administration views conservation as perhaps a "sign of personal virtue," but "not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."

... The Bush plan would provide no short-term relief for Americans struggling to pay their gasoline and electric bills this summer. And, over the long-term, it would increase pollution, despoil the environment, threaten public health and accelerate global warming. Moreover, it would have no impact on energy prices, and no practical effect on U.S. dependence on foreign sources of oil. Who would benefit? The oil, coal and nuclear industries that shoveled millions of dollars into Bush campaign coffers.

What's happened? Voila! Record profits for oil companies, and record prices at the pump!

The Bush energy policy is only part of the much larger web of corruption that has enfolded the Republican Party, especially when you factor in Enron's role in the task force's findings. After all, Enron was also a major player in the DeLay/Abramoff money machine that is now caving in around the GOP like a rotten mineshaft.

In all the reportage on gas prices, though, you won't find anyone making this connection.

That's because the right is, if nothing else, still good at blowing up a smokescreen. Going back to the Chicago Tribune piece, there was this bit of rationalization for the closed style of government now practiced by the right:
"I really think they think of it in terms of good governance," said James Carafano, senior fellow for national security and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. "It's a very corporate style of leadership."

Well, yeah ... if your corporation is Enron: secretive, corrupt, and a massive rip-off.

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