Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dead Letter Office

The Bush Administration has had a difficult history with e-mail not only as a channel of coordinated conspiracy but also as a venue that records internal dissent. Now two cases involving environmental policy show that White House staffers are well aware of the evidentiary status of e-mail. In one case, described by the New York Times in "White House Refused to Open Pollutants E-Mail," an official statement from the EPA that was mandated by the Supreme Court that characterized greenhouse gasses as pollutants was left in inbox limbo on the grounds that its conclusions would have to be revised. The White House also sent out a mass e-mail to mayors asking for their official objections to environmental regulations, since federal agencies weren't serving as enough of a roadblock on their own, as the Washington Post reports in "White House Prods Allies to Oppose Limits on Greenhouse Gases."

As the New York Times points out, there is some irony in the White House's elaborate orchestration of e-mail response management, since public opinion -- and even federal policy -- has evolved to concur with the opinions of atmospheric scientists. The NYT reporter cited the administration's own website at as proof that the Presidency "now accepts the work of government scientists."

However, a visit to the actual website suggests a much more complicated rhetorical history, since the portal only promises to "integrate" research coming out of government agencies by presenting reports with obfuscating titles that only indicate more data collection rather than sunstantive advocacy or policy change. These reports have weird PowerPoint-style sentence fragments and mixed constructions like "Decision support experiments and evaluations using seasonal to interannual forecasts and observational data" and "Trends in emissions of ozone-depleting substances, ozone layer recovery, and implications for ultraviolet radiation exposure" and "Uses and limitations of observations, data, forecasts, and other projections in decision support for selected sectors and regions."

Even the word "change" in the URL was apparently controversial, since the now defunct "," shown below, forwards to "," which was also discontinued.

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