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July 28, 2010

Update on the “most open and transparent” administration in history

Here’s the promise, published January 20, 2009:

Transparency -- President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history, and WhiteHouse.gov will play a major role in delivering on that promise. The President's executive orders and proclamations will be published for everyone to review, and that’s just the beginning of our efforts to provide a window for all Americans into the business of the government.

Here’s the directive to the Executive Branch, published January 21, 2009:

Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies

SUBJECT:      Transparency and Open Government

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.

[…and so on…]

Here’s the reality (FoxBusiness, July 28):

Under a little-noticed provision of the recently passed financial-reform legislation, the Securities and Exchange Commission no longer has to comply with virtually all requests for information releases from the public, including those filed under the Freedom of Information Act.

The law, signed last week by President Obama, exempts the SEC from disclosing records or information derived from "surveillance, risk assessments, or other regulatory and oversight activities." Given that the SEC is a regulatory body, the provision covers almost every action by the agency, lawyers say. Congress and federal agencies can request information, but the public cannot.

That argument comes despite the President saying that one of the cornerstones of the sweeping new legislation was more transparent financial markets. Indeed, in touting the new law, Obama specifically said it would “increase transparency in financial dealings."

The SEC cited the new law Tuesday in a FOIA action brought by FOX Business Network.

Go to the FoxBusiness link above to read the relevant section of the law.

[Emphasis added throughout]

Who in the world is David H. Comins?

Does David H. Comins actually exist?

The “Thought For The Day” Listserv had this quote today:
People will accept your ideas much more readily if you tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first.
-- David H. Comins
I loved the quote, and wanted to pass it along to my friends, but I was curious about the author, because I had never heard of him.

I’m usually pretty good at digging information out of Google, but so far I’ve come up empty.  Searching on his name, I found countless sites that reproduce this quote, but have no information about who Comins is.

So… Is Comins a one-hit wonder, famous precisely for saying the above quote, but otherwise obscure?  That’s not very easy to pull off, it seems to me.

I did find a Facebook page for a David Comins, but I’d have to get on his Friends list to see any detailed information on him.  There’s a David Comins on LinkedIn, but how would an Information Manager at TimeWarner become famous for a quote on Benjamin Franklin?

C’mon, somebody do my homework for me and point me to a site that tells me who Comins is.

There is a lesson in all of this.  How often to we uncritically pass on things we find on the Internet or receive in our email?  Do any of the people who posted the Comins quote on their websites know anything about Comins, assuming he exists?  I’m willing to bet they don’t.

You’re welcome to prove me wrong.

11 July 2011 UPDATE:
The hunt for David H. Comins still rages on, given the number of visits to this post through search engines.  I decided to have another look to see if anything else had turned up on him.  I think we've got him!  It seems that the possibility that I dismissed above as the least likely has ended up being the reality about our mystery man.

All of those sites referring to him as an author may want to reconsider that description, given that pretty much the only thing he ever got published was... that quote.  It was a reader submission for a magazine article.  In real life, it looks like he was a real estate broker in Manchester, Connecticut for quite a while, but he's well past retirement now.  I wouldn't be surprised if he’s spending his golden years marveling about how famous—yet obscure—he is.

18 December 2015 UPDATE: The links in the previous update no longer work, so I thought I'd update my search.  A recent book called The Official Rules has this entry for "Comins's Law":

There's no way to know where the authors got their information, but the citation supports my 2011 findings: that Comins lived in Manchester, Connecticut, and that the quotation originally appeared in a magazine article (HW = Harper's Weekly).  He may still be there, if Pipl's data is accurate.

Conclusion, reiterated: David H. Comins is famous for this quotation, and nothing else.  If it weren't for his submission to Harper's, he wouldn't exist at all, as far as the internet is concerned.

July 27, 2010

The Case of the Vanishing Oil Spill: A Parable

ABC News reported July 26 that the oil cleanup brigades are having trouble finding oil to clean up (emphasis added):

For 86 days, oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico from BP's damaged well, dumping some 200 million gallons of crude into sensitive ecosystems. BP and the federal government have amassed an army to clean the oil up, but there's one problem -- they're having trouble finding it.

At its peak last month, the oil slick was the size of Kansas, but it has been rapidly shrinking, now down to the size of New Hampshire.

[…] The numbers don't lie: two weeks ago, skimmers picked up about 25,000 barrels of oily water. Last Thursday, they gathered just 200 barrels.

Still, it doesn't mean that all the oil that gushed for weeks is gone. Thousands of small oil patches remain below the surface, but experts say an astonishing amount has disappeared, reabsorbed into the environment.

"[It's] mother nature doing her job," said Ed Overton, a professor of environmental studies at Louisiana State University.

The well has been capped for only two weeks, and already nature has done an “astonishing” amount of the work that the cleanup folks had expected to do.

This says a lot about our planet’s ability to accommodate shocks to the ecosystem.

Think about it.  Experts have been taken completely by surprise by the way the Gulf of Mexico is cleaning itself up. 

And yet, we’re told by many that the science is settled concerning climate change, and that there remains no credible opposition to the notion that we’re nearing a tipping point of irreversible damage to our planet.  What’s really astonishing is the hubris of “experts” who think their knowledge of climate is anywhere near the level needed to make predictions like that.

Pause and reflect.


(Image found here)

Liking Sarah Palin and… Mitt Romney??

Facebook fan page recommendations appear to be based on one of two main criteria: (1) a certain number of people on your Friends list are fans of the  page; or (2) a certain number of people who are not on your Friends list, but are fans of some page you’re a fan of, are also fans of some other page you’re not a fan of (got that?).

Recently I’ve been seeing the following recommendation on my Facebook sidebar:

Facebook is making this statement based on statistics, not on philosophy.  “Like” has a different meaning in the Real World.

It just seems difficult to believe that thinking conservatives would truly like both Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney… especially when we’re talking about the difference between (1) a woman who refuses to back away from her conservative values, even in the face of an all-out attempt to destroy her and her family, and (2) a man who was acceptable to the majority of the voters in one of the most liberal states in the country.

July 23, 2010

MSM starting to report on the “unintended consequences” of Obamacare

“Unintended consequences” – a phrase almost certain to become clichéd in the coming months and years as people and businesses start digging into (and reacting to) the deepest, darkest parts of the new health care law.

AP reports July 23 that the law is already starting to have a negative impact on one class of people:

Some major health insurance companies have stopped issuing certain types of policies for children, an unintended consequence of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law, state officials said Friday.

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said in his state UnitedHealthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield have stopped issuing new policies that cover children individually. Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland said a couple of local insurers in her state have done likewise.

[…] Starting later this year, the health care overhaul law requires insurers to accept children regardless of medical problems — a major early benefit of the complex legislation. Insurers are worried that parents will wait until kids get sick to sign them up, saddling the companies with unpredictable costs.

[…] "Our plans are very concerned about this," said Alissa Fox, a top Washington lobbyist for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. "If the law says that insurers have to take you any time, any place, some people will see that as an opportunity to wait until their children get sick to buy coverage."

There is nothing in the law that would stop a hospital from buying a policy for a uninsured child who came into the emergency room, she added.

The law is almost certainly riddled with landmines like this.  The average congressperson can neither confirm nor deny this, primarily because the average congressperson hasn’t actually read the law he or she voted to enact.

If the GOP wants to win in November, it needs to be more than simply not-Obama

Does the national GOP hoping to passively surf the growing wave of anti-Obama sentiment all the way to control of Congress?

In NRO on July 21, Victor Davis Hanson argues that the GOP – as a party and as individual candidates – needs to be specific about how it would govern differently than Obama and the current Congress are governing:

Republican politicos will quite accurately lecture that presenting such detailed alternative plans would be foolhardy: The key now is simply to be against what an unpopular Obama is for. I accept that offering detailed solutions might well turn the public as much against the proposed medicine as against the original malignant disease.

Yet at some point, blanket Obama-bashing without a comprehensive alternative will turn stale. Critics of Obama — if they are to be taken seriously — will have to be about more than not being Obama. Instead, conservatives must identify exactly how to undo the Obama agenda — and do so in a way that does not earn them the disdain that the Republican Congress earned between 2001 and 2006, and the Republican administration between 2005 and 2009.

We need some notion of a contracted agenda, so that conservative voters can hold conservative politicians to account in this age of anti-incumbency. Voters wanted closed borders, balanced budgets, ethical members of Congress, and less government between 2001 and 2006. They believed that all of that had been promised — and then were sorely disappointed.

In short, conservative voters want to see something specific — as much to keep their own honest as to defeat the other.

The Tea Party movement’s very existence shows that the conservative base is restless.  Conservatives are in no mood to be used by the GOP elites to effect a return to We May Be Bad But We’re Not As Bad As The Democrats.  The elites will ignore this at their peril.