4. SECRECY VS. TRANSPARENCY – 4.1 The state secrets privilege – Bush did: He reinterpreted this evidency rule, making it serve to bar any legal actions against the government, throwing out entire cases involving torture, arbitrary detention and warrantless spying on Americans. – Obama said: “The Bush administration has ignored public disclosure rules and has invoked a legal tool known as the ‘state secrets privilege’ more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court.” (Campaign statement on Obama’s website) Obama said that “transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” (White House statement, January 21, 2009) Obama also wanted to “applaud eveyone who has worked to increase transparency in government and recommit my administration to be the most open and transparent ever…” (Statement on “Sunshine Week,” March 16, 2010) Obama did: He and the Department of Justice adopted the same legal arguments as the Bush administration made. Obama has continued to use the state secrets privilege to block any scrutiny of torture, arbitary detentions, warrantless spying, extraordinary renditions and the assassination program, which he claims the very “existence or non-existence of” is a state secret.
4.2 Whistleblowers and journalists – Bush did: The Department of Justice under Bush went aggressively after leakers, isuing subpoenas to reporters demanding to know their sources, threatening them with lawsuits and subjecting them to harrasssment by the FBI. No whistleblowers were prosecuted. The leaker of a CIA undercover agent’s name has never been indentified. – Obama said: “Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud and abuse of authority in government.” (Statement on Obama’s Change.gov website) “We will launch a sweeping effort to root out waste, inefficiency, and unnecessary spending by our government… sunlight is the best disinfectant…” (Statement in White House, January 28, 2009) – Obama did: The Department of Justice under President Obama has indicted as many whistleblowers as all previous presidents combined. Those indicted include Thomas Drake, for taking classified material home; FBI linguist S. Leibowitz — sentenced to 20 months for leaking documents about a CIA program — and issued a subpoena to Jim Risen of the New York Times to disclose his source for a CIA operation in Iran. The White House is at war with WikiLeaks for its disclosures and has defended the pre-trial treatment of Bradley Manning. The bottom line is that torturers are protected, while those who have tried to bring abuses to light are prosecuted.
5. THE ENVIRONMENT – 5.1 Global warming – Bush did: He refused to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol and undermined any international treaty for mitigating global warming. His administration was notorious for changing language in government scientific documents to downgrade any claim that global warming is real. – Obama said: “We cannot afford more of the timid politics when the future of our planet is at stake. Global warming is not a someday problem, it is now.” (Portsmouth, New Hampshire, October 8, 2007) “My presidency will mark a new chapter in climate change…” (Global Climate summit, January 5, 2009) “Obama and Biden support implementation of a market-based cap-and-trade system.” (Campaign policy statement) – Obama did: At the December 2009 Copenhagen summit, Obama personally rejected any binding limits and pushed for the expiration of Kyoto in 2012. The final accord had no legal force on the signatories. Kate Horner, policy analyst for Friends of the Earth, stated on Democracy Now that the U.S. is trying to dismantle international negotiations. No concrete action was taken to curb global warming at the 2010 cllimate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico.
In July 2010, the Democrats announced that they had given up on domestic climate legislation. President Obama has endorsed “clean coal” technology, which many energy analysts call a “misnomer.”
5.2 Offshore drilling – Bush did: He pushed Congress to lift a ban on offshore drilling on most parts of the United States and eased safety regulations on oil drilling. Under Bush, the watchdog agency, the Minerals Management Service, was known for ethics violations. – Obama said: “(Barack Obama) supports maintaining current moritorium on new offshore oil and natural gas drilling.” (Campaign policy statement) “(Offshore drilling) would have long-term consequences to our coastlines but no short-term benefits…” (Jacksonville, Florida, June 20, 2008) – Obama did: In March 2010, Obama announced plans to open vast areas of coastal waters in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico to oil and natural gas drillling. Offshore drilling under Obama was soon boosted to record levels.
Before the BP oil rig explosion, Obama said oil rigs don’t generally cause spills but he continued to exempt new drilling projects from environmental review. The White House continued to give misleadingly low numbers — 12 times lower — on the magnitude of the BP spills.
5.3 NUCLEAR POWER – Bush did: He proposed a “nuclear renaissance.” This renaissance would be fueled by $13 billion in subsidies and $18 billion in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees for the construction of new plants but no plants were built in his two terms. – Obama said: “My general view is that until we can make certain that nuclear power plants are safe, that they have solved the storage problem, and until (the) nuclear industry can show that they can create clean, safe energy, without enormous subsidies from the U.S. government, I don’t think that’s the best option.” (Town hall meeting, Newton, Iowa, December 30, 2007) In 2006, after Exelon Corporation had kept radioactive leaks secret, Obama introduced a bill to require all plant owners to notify about leaks, he bowed to pressure from Exelon and Senate Republicans to change the bill to not legally mandate reporting; however, while campaigning in 2008, he continued to tout his bill, which, even watered-down, didn’t pass.
In the 2011 budget plan, Obama proposed to triple the amount of loan guarantees for the construction of new nuclear power plants from $18 billion to $55 billion. On February 16, 2010, Obama announced the first grants: $8.33 billion for two new reactors. New nuclear power production is extremely expensive and requires extensive subsidies from the federal government.
5.4 Ground-level ozone limits – Bush did: His EPA set a standard of 75 parts per billion, which was stricter than the one adopted in 1997 but not as strong as federal scientists said was needed to protect public health. – Obama said: “As president, Barack Obama will restore the force of the Clean Air Act.” and will fight for “continued reductions in smog and soot…” Furthermore, he will listen to his scientific advisers. (Campaign policy statement) – Obama did: In 2011, the EPA’s scientists and health experts recommended lowering ground-level ozone limits. On September 2, 2011, Obama rejected the lower limits.
The American Lung Association said the lower limits could prevent tens of thousands of asthma attacks, other acute respiatory symptons and premature deaths.