LOS ANGELES TIMES: In October 2001, the Bush administration took an administrative action that would prove sadly symptomatic of its rule. John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, issued a memorandum warning against casual release of information to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. Such releases, Ashcroft said, should be made “only after full and deliberate consideration of the institutional, commercial and personal privacy interests that could be implicated.” In case anyone missed the point, Ashcroft added that any bureaucrat who said no to such a request could “be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis.” It goes without saying that Ashcroft did not promise any such defense of government employees who released information under the terms of the act.
If cavalier disregard of the law and the public’s right to hold its government accountable were hallmarks of the recently departed administration, we can only hope that President Obama’s response signals a new approach. One of his first presidential acts was to issue a memo to federal agencies on the Freedom of Information Act. It opens by quoting former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ pronouncement that sunlight is the “best of disinfectants” and continues by trumpeting the act as “the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open government.” Where Ashcroft searched for excuses to withhold information, Obama directed all agencies to “adopt a presumption” in favor of releasing it.
That is a transformation of incalculable significance. It alerts agencies that they must use their offices to inform, even when what’s revealed is embarrassing, not to shield or deflect. Moreover, it reverses the disastrous example that the Bush policies set for state and local governments. In Los Angeles and elsewhere, officials used concerns about security as a pretext to retreat from accountability, inhibiting scrutiny of police accused of misconduct and cloaking the salaries of public officials, among other dubious acts of secrecy. The tension between a free society and a powerful government will never disappear entirely. But Obama’s prompt action on the Freedom of Information Act restores balance to that debate. It should remind officials throughout the land that they must answer first to the public. MORE
WALL STREET JOURNAL: President Barack Obama will issue an order restoring U.S. funding for international family-planning groups involved with abortion. But he chose not to do so on Thursday, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. President Obama was breaking with the tradition set by his recent predecessors to make an abortion-related order on the anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling, another example of his attempt to support liberal policies he believes in while trying to defuse emotional political debates. MORE
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Google’s executives and employees overwhelmingly supported Obama’s candidacy, contributing more money than all but three companies or universities. And only DreamWorks employees gave more toward inauguration festivities. Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt campaigned for Obama and was one of four Googlers on his transition team. He is now as likely as any corporate chieftain to get his calls to the White House returned. At the top of the company’s policy priorities are two that consumer advocates largely champion. First, it wants to expand high-speed Internet access so people can use its Web services more often. It also is pushing for so-called network neutrality: prohibitions on telecommunications companies charging websites for faster delivery of their content. MORE
BBC: A man arrested by Mexican police says he disposed of 300 bodies for a drugs gang over the past decade by dissolving them in chemicals. Santiago Meza, called the “stew maker”, said he was paid $600 a week to dissolve the bodies of murdered rival gang members in caustic soda.He was presented to the media by the Mexican army after being arrested on Thursday near the city of Tijuana. Over 700 people died in the US border city last year in an ongoing drugs war. The Mexican army says it believes Mr Meza’s claims are true. MORE