Friday, December 26, 2008

Facebook pages in National Archives? - Zardari's crisis leadership questioned - Anti-Corruption Day, Blagojevich and Zardari

By EAMON JAVERS | 12/8/08 4:30 AM EST 
A woman checks a Facebook profile.
If you've applied for a job with the Obama administration, could your personal info end up in the National Archives?
Photo: AP

Say you're a hopeful applicant for a job in the new Obama administration, and you've dutifully filled out the seven-page, 63-question disclosure questionnaire mandated by the transition office.

In it, you revealed the content of your Facebook page — after deleting those New Year's Eve photos from 2005! – that mole you had removed from your neck a couple of months ago and the details of your inheritance from Great Aunt Edna.

You hit the send button.

And then you think: Just who's going to be reading this? And when similar information from all of the Obama applicants has been gathered, creating one of the largest treasure troves of personal secrets of powerful people in the world, exactly who will own that database?

Don't ask the Obama team, it's not saying.

A spokesman for the presidential transition declined to reveal the number of people who'll have access to the disclosure information, where it will be kept and what will be done with it at the end of the transition. "I can't comment at all on that," said
Obama spokesman Reid Cherlin.

Clearly, the database being built by the Obama team will be of enormous interest to people on the transition staff and beyond. It will be especially interesting to people the Obama team would least like to have access to it — hackers, political dirty tricksters and hostile foreign governments, among others.

"There may be 10,000 or 15,000 people who fill these things out, but I can think of 10 [million] or 15 million people who'd like to read them," said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University who wrote the textbook on government service.

But applicants who are jittery about the security of their personal information shouldn't be overly concerned, he said. "The forms are extremely intrusive. It's part of the price they pay," he explained. "But leaks are extremely rare."

The legal chain of custody of the paperwork is clear. According to the National Archives, all documents created by the presidential transition are the personal property of the president-elect, not the federal government. In theory, transition staff could pack up all of the applications on Jan. 19 and send them to Chicago to be stored in Obama's Hyde Park home.

But what's most likely to happen is that the papers will be turned over to the Obama White House, where they'll become official presidential records and be subject to the Presidential Records Act.

All such papers must eventually be turned over to the National Archives. Staff there will request the Obama team eventually turn over all papers only used by the transition, too, although it will be under no legal obligation to do so.

"Those records are personal, they're not presidential," says Susan Cooper, a spokeswoman for the National Archives and Research Administration. "We will encourage the president and the new White House to donate any personal materials to his future presidential library."

Don't worry, though: That doesn't mean your Facebook page will be on display at the Obama museum in Chicago in 2027. "There are very clear guidelines that protect people's privacy," said Cooper. "Just because you end up in the National Archives doesn't mean that it will become public information."

Even now, the Archives and the Bush White House are working out the details of whether President George W. Bush will ship paperwork generated by the transition in 2000 to the National Archives. The White House said it had no comment on what the president might do.

For aspiring White House appointees, the disclosure requested by the Obama transition is just the first level of paperwork. After that, the most senior people will have to put together a financial disclosure form that will be made available to a curious public. And people do read the forms — wealthy Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin's disclosure form, for example, was the single most downloaded financial form from government Web servers during the Clinton years.

And after that, potential appointees must undergo an FBI background check, which generates yet more paperwork, although those documents are kept private, since they can include rumors, critical comments and unsubstantiated facts.

Zardari's crisis leadership questioned

By Laura King, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post
Published: December 09, 2008, 23:39

Islamabad: A year ago, Asif Ali Zardari was a political footnote. He was best known as the corruption-tainted, polo-loving husband of Benazir Bhutto, the charismatic former Pakistani prime minister who appeared poised to make a dramatic return to power.

Now Zardari, who took over leadership of Bhutto's party after she was assassinated in December 27 and became president three months ago, finds himself head of state at a time of extraordinary turmoil, even by Pakistani standards.

Stung by Indian accusations that Pakistani militants played a leading role in last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, the country has responded with an outpouring of nationalistic sentiment.

For the moment, that sense of affront and grievance is uniting Pakistanis of all political persuasions, but many analysts believe it could eventually backfire on Zardari.

A tough stance

To please a domestic audience, the 53-year-old president has taken a tough stance toward India, refusing to hand over suspects sought by New Delhi and expressing scepticism that the attacks emanated from Pakistani soil, despite mounting evidence from Indian investigators and Western intelligence.

But at the same time, Zardari is under intense pressure from the United States, his main patron, to crack down on militant figures suspected of being behind the attacks, although that could provoke a violent backlash from insurgents and their supporters.

Pakistani cities and towns have already suffered a concerted campaign of suicide bombings at militants' hands.

Zardari was overwhelmingly elected president by Pakistani lawmakers in September, after leading his wife's political party to victory in parliamentary elections six weeks after her death.

The assassination brought a wave of sympathy for Zardari, who had long been derided as "Mr 10 percent" for kickbacks he allegedly demanded on government contracts when his wife was prime minister in the 1990s. But many Pakistanis, particularly among the country's educated elite, fear Zardari is simply not up to the task of governance.

"Naive is the word I would use," said Zafarullah Khan, director of the Centre for Civic Education in Islamabad. "He really became president only by accident."

Since the Mumbai crisis erupted, Zardari and his lieutenants have made a series of embarrassing missteps. During the siege, the Pakistani civilian government promised to send spy chief Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha to help with the investigation - only to be forced to rescind the pledge when the military would have none of it. One of the country's premier newspapers, Dawn, reported that Zardari's aides were also tricked about the identity of a caller they believed to be India's foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee.

When the caller made threats of military action to Zardari, Pakistan's air force spent nearly 24 hours in a state of highest alert before it was ascertained that Mukherjee had not been the person on the line.

Even if the India crisis defuses, Zardari is facing what could become a massive wave of discontent in his country.

Anti-Corruption Day, Blagojevich and Zardari

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When Barack Obama was elected president, Governor Blagojevich of Illinois saw opportunity in the vacancy created in the U.S. Senate. "I've got this thing and it's f------ golden, and uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for f------ nothing," he allegedly said, according to U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago. Fitzgerald has the governor's recorded conversations demanding $500,000 to a million dollars to sell the senate seat.

How ironic! The governor of a major American state that is sending its senator to the White House as president got charged with massive corruption on Dec 9, 2008, the day designated as International Anti-Corruption Day by the United Nations.

This latest corruption scandal in the United States confirms that corruption exists in all parts of the world, including the industrialized world. However, this report also illustrates that, unlike Pakistan and many other less developed countries, there is greater accountability in the West for the people in power.

At the time of the recent India-US nuclear deal approval, members of India's parliament, including convicts released on parole, were offered all kinds of incentives to vote in a certain way. Both the government and the opposition tried desperately to entice them with promises of largess, influence and plum jobs in return for their vote. The BJP opposition, however, could not match the resources of the governing Congress party and the deal was approved.

Not only is there lack of accountability in the developing nations, it seems that politicians such as Pakistan's President Zardari, widely known as Mr. Ten Percent, get rewarded with high offices by the illiterate electorate in spite of corruption, with the assistance of amnesties arranged by the United States. It is what President Bush often describes as "soft bigotry of low expectations" when the West pushes for the pardon of corrupt politicians in countries such as Pakistan, in clear violation of the UN Conventions against Corruption. What is worse, such policies of condoning corruption are pursued in the name of promoting democracy in the third world.

The behavior of condoning corruption in the third world extends to the private sector as well, with American and European companies routinely engaging in bribery in Africa, Middle East and Asia. There are definitely laws on the books in the West such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in the United States. Almost all ethics classes taught in the Western management schools and company training courses cover this topic. However, the question is whether these laws are really enforced and how often are the companies held accountable? Or do they simply rely on the foreign governments to report misbehavior? It would be a fantasy to expect the officials and politicians on the receiving end to report incidents of bribery as they are the main beneficiaries. But I think the German, French, US, British and other governments of developed nations who claim higher moral positions should be cracking down on these reprehensible practices just to enforce their own laws and live up to their own higher standards. While it may be argued and it is like putting the shoe on the wrong foot, I see it as the only hope we have of containing such widespread corruption in developing nations that is robbing their people blind.
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