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Ear to the Ground

Team Obama’s New Transparency Tactic

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Posted on Dec 5, 2008
Seat at the Table

This could be you: Members of the Obama transition team meet in a transparent fashion about increasing transparency.

If the secret policy wonk in you has always hankered to sit in on those exciting meetings that happen in elite circles of government, you’re in luck—members of the Obama transition team have found another way to use the Web for the sake of transparency with their new “Seat at the Table” initiative.

ABC News/Political Punch:

The [Obama transition team] will post, per these instructions, all policy documents and written policy recommendations from “official meetings” with outside organizations and the date and organizations represented at official meetings in the Transition headquarters or agency offices, along with any documents presented. Staff are strongly encouraged to include any additional materials.

After the information is posted, the general public can comment at the OTT website: 

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Here’s an excerpt from the memo announcing the initiative on

As an extension of the unprecedented ethics guidelines already in place for the Obama-Biden Transition Project, we take another significant step towards transparency of our efforts for the American people. Every day, we meet with organizations who present ideas for the Transition and the Administration, both orally and in writing. We want to ensure that we give American people a “seat at the table” and that we receive the benefit of their feedback.

Accordingly, any documents from official meetings with outside organizations will be posted on our website for people to review and comment on.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 8, 2008 at 10:04 am Link to this comment

cyrena, you were so busy biting my finger over surface-structure errors (and, yes, I should have known better) that you missed the deep-structure claim about the source of the flawed reasoning.  That is the problem of scale.  (I actually said this multiple times in my first draft but then had to cut that to less that 4000 characters!)  My bottom line is that we are talking about EFFECTIVE communication (which cannot be measured the way efficiency can).  What works for the size of a metaphorical table for community organizing (or a Vermont town meeting or, for that matter, Athenian democracy) does not necessarily work on Internet scale;  and, as I tried to illustrate, recent attempts to apply such thinking to Internet scale have had unexpected unpleasant consequences.  Even Truthdig has its scale problems, as you well know from some of the Comment threads that emerge!

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By cyrena, December 8, 2008 at 12:11 am Link to this comment

“Put another way, we hear lots of publicity about all the ways in which anyone can contribute to the process; but we have no idea what sort of processes are in place to review those contributions.”


Actually Stephen, the review process is discussed in a video from the same site. Or, you could flip over to the story here at TD that has Obama’s YouTube address on the Economy. (I guess that’s from yesterday or the day before). There are several linked videos, one of which explains this part.

In so far as the PDF format goes, I don’t know that it shows bias just because the comments have been formatted. Can’t you still comment on them? Over the past few years, that (PDFing) has become my major mode of sharing and reviewing documents. Everybody involved in the project can add as much as they want to it, right from the relative comfort of their computers. (relative being a key word here). For a while there, I was the only one using it, because the software was expensive. Now you can download pdf making software for free, and while it’s probably no different than what microsoft word can now do, (allowing for on-line review and changes) the PDF stuff is far easier to work with, and to store efficiently.

So, I guess I’m having a hard time seeing how that fits into your interpretation of the ‘flawed reasoning’ behind this concept. But then, I have a hard time comprehending the complaints about such an UNHEARD OF concept anyway. The concept of having a seat at the table is certainly not new to me, having spent a considerable amount of study on alternative dispute resolution, which begins with a seat at the table for those involved. But it’s certainly an unheard of concept in terms of the relationship between the US government and its citizenry.

So, could that be why a few of you find this to be such a flawed concept? Just because it’s never been attempted before now? Might that not be even MORE flawed reasoning?

I’m even more curious about how so many of you who are the most astute political observers have somehow missed the continuation of the grass roots part of this movement. My own email box is full to overflowing with these notifications of events and projects…many of them already on the way to the shop for immediate repair.

For instance…the signing statements and EO’s that have been secret, and need to be addressed. The closing of Guantanamo, (unless I can convince them to keep it open in order to process Cheney et al at a facility already owned and operated by the taxpayers). Then there’s the recent trial and conviction of the blackwater thugs that mowed down those innocent civilians with their weapons.

Then there’s the new AG that has already promised to prosecute internal threats, regardless of where they might be found, including the boardrooms, along with his plan to return the Justice Department to an agenda based on the Constitution.

Don’t you all care about any of that stuff? Seems like you did before. But, that was before more of the previously ‘well to do’ finally got whacked like the rest of us.

Ya know what they say…it’s a recession when the neighbor loses his or her job, health, home, and it becomes a depression when it happens to them. THEN the panic can proceed, and whoever happens to be around at the time, gets all of the blame.

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By Purple Girl, December 7, 2008 at 7:33 am Link to this comment

I knew I would get a seat at th etable or would at least be able to push my way in, far more likely than Hillary and Certainly McCain (Mr & Mrs. ‘I Know’)-
No Ya don’t and your Senate Record can prove it..Iraq vote, ‘Patriot Act’, Armed Services committe, Keating or NAFTA???
I voted for Kucinich in the Clinton Rigged MI Primary (Ballot configuration tampering on top of restricted Candidate Choices- Hillary Did not win MI, she stole it and her ‘popular Vote’ claim was BS). I have always been a Liberal Dem and a staunch advocate for Rights inwhich our founding Documents intended to guid US. I am still a Avid proponent of legal action against this admin. I still hate the Corps gutting of the ameircan Free market,dominating not only our innovations but also the resources we need to merely live, not to mention Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
But do I expect this New Admin to address my deamnds for Justice in the near future, to the Extent I feel warranted..Probabaly Not. We have far too many string to repair and unwind. We have Decades of misdirections and covert agendas to unravel which must wait until we resolve those Clusters that are killing US immediately. Take care of the Economy, the 2 wars and Energy first. I am happy to hear some Charges have been levied- Blackwater, Gonzales. Hell if the Fed doesn’t have time to prosecute them, We states should…50 States and 2 territories numerous counts of the same crimes, someone might sentence them to the harshest extent of the law. My heart Bleeds.Is it Vermont that has the Warrants on Bush & Cheney? 51 One more to go.
so pres elect Obama, focus on what is Good for our Economic and global Standing, the States may be able to take this one off your hands.

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By John Lowell, December 6, 2008 at 9:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This idea has all the authenticity of a Barak Obama campaign promise. Anyone honestly believing that this initiative is anything more substantial than a Potemkin Village needs two things: (1) a new emetic or (2) a memory that can reach back to a time that Josef Stalin opened the White Sea Canal. This will-‘o-the-wisp is simply another device for channelling public emotion - and disapproval - into a black hole, a function usually assigned by the system to the out-of-power party. The system is made to appear democratic when in fact its toying with you. Expect a lot of that over the next four years.

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By samosamo, December 6, 2008 at 1:26 pm Link to this comment

By cyrena, December 6 at 4:24 am

Thanks,  your optimism is much needed as just my attention to the selections of o-b does not instill confidence in me about real change but as I keep reminding myself, he is not president yet to show his mettle and I wait for that. And I still shout for joy that a republican was not elected again.

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By JFKliberal, December 6, 2008 at 10:50 am Link to this comment

By Stephen Smoliar, December 6 at 8:15 am #
There are serious flaws in the reasoning behind this process


I agree; that is why I never voted for Obama or McCain. I would much rather submit a poem I wrote—then my own ideas about modern day politics.

Our language; has been destroyed by the process.

All the politicians want to hear—is the ramblings of a confused mob building a towel of babel.

The mirror of their own souls.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 6, 2008 at 9:15 am Link to this comment

There are serious flaws in the reasoning behind this process.  Most important a confusion between providing opportunities for INPUT instead of CONVERSATION.  You may be sitting at the table;  but, if you try to say anything, you may as well be in the Peanut Gallery.  Yes, there are comment exchanges over at;  but that is “chatter within the Peanut Gallery.”  (Also, the comments are on completed PDF files, which already biases the situation.)  More important is the likelihood that such “chatter” is out of the ear-shot of those who are REALLY at the table.  Put another way, we hear lots of publicity about all the ways in which anyone can contribute to the process;  but we have no idea what sort of processes are in place to review those contributions.

This is a problem of scale.  To mix metaphors, when you open your doors that wide, you are going to admit a lot of noise along with signal.  There is no technology that is going to deal with this kind of signal extraction.  Do you really think there is the manpower to do so?

Dan Froomkin, Deputy Editor of the otherwise reputable Nieman Watchdog Project, seems to think that this problem can be solved through Wiki-style wisdom-of-crowds thinking.  This amounts to saying that you let the Peanut Gallery work things out on their own;  and eventually the good stuff will “trickle down” to the people who actually have to make decisions and take actions.  As you may guess from my use of scare quotes, I do not buy this argument any more than I bought it as a metaphor for the economy under Reagan.  Instead there is “the dialectical tension between the ‘wisdom of crowds’ philosophy of Wikipedia and the WWE Friday Night Smackdown! conduct of Wikipedia contributors:”

Worse yet, if any “trickle” is to occur, it will probably be determined by a dumb-ass thumbs-up-or-down voting on the “chatter” comments themselves.  I find this extremely dangerous, because it basically substitutes the REPRESENTATIVE process outlined in our Constitution with a PLEBICATORY one.  Call me old-fashioned and paranoid;  but, as far as I am concerned, government by plebiscite is the first step down the road to totalitarian fascism:

Finally, I feel it is important to note that is already beginning to face malware attacks:

We saw the sorts of things that malware can do during the campaign.  The thought of malware effective enough to interfere with the most serious of decisions and actions sends a real chill down my spine.

Back when Obama accepted his nomination, he pushed the working-together theme for all it is worth.  I worry that too much attention is being paid to the “together” and not enough to the “work.”  I was looking forward to a new age of community-organizing, so to speak, perhaps a New Deal of grass-roots activities.  Instead, I see everyone being invited to sit at the tables of power.  This is not the way for a new Administration to begin, because it may have already devolved into the trumping of substance by symbolism.

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By cyrena, December 6, 2008 at 5:24 am Link to this comment

This isn’t new though samosamo. He’s been doing this all along. It’s just that if you hang around truthdig for too long without anti-depressants, (as least with the likes of the Perpetual Malcontents continuing their perpetual anti-Obama crusade) you don’t get to hear about these things. wink

No seriously though…the transition team has been hot on maintaining and expanding the grass roots nature of the campaign that proved so successful. When in history has any US President or administration actually given a shit about what the population thinks, and maintained a way for the people to be involved in their own government?

Actually, never. But, coming after eight years of an administration blatantly giving us the finger, and all of the serial lying and secrecy, it might seem to good to be true.

Anyway, you might consider checking in with the web site, and documenting some suggestions, or signing up for one of the many civic meetups. I just heard some old guys in my cirlce chatting about the opportunities to get dates and meet women at these events. Whatever. As long as folks are involved now that they have the chance to be.

I haven’t figured out which ‘cause’ I wanna get involved with. (there are sooooo many). But I think my first choice would be the team that puts these bastards under the jail at the Hague.

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By samosamo, December 5, 2008 at 9:37 pm Link to this comment

You’re kidding? Well, at least something positive from team o-b.

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