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Gwen’s Take: Hillary, Congress & Ferguson: The perils of seeing more clearly

Let’s have a chat about transparency, and how much we really want to know about the way things work.

This week provided several good examples of the discussion along the campaign trail, and in all three branches of government.

Hillary Clinton: The former Secretary of State, whose email habits have come under recent scrutiny, has not exactly been a model of clarity. On one hand, her staff says she’s turned over 55,000 pages of emails to the State Department. On the other hand, she got to decide what to release, because it turns out they all lived on private, not government, servers.

This can sound like digital inside baseball, but archivists and historians take this sort of thing more seriously. Do we really want officials to selectively determine what citizens get to know about how they carry out the people’s business?

The best example of why that is a perilous path was on public display this week thanks to a Department of Justice report on the Ferguson Police Department.

The NewsHour invited Rev. Starsky Wilson and Kevin Ahlbrand of the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, two members of an independent commission set up by the state of Missouri, to discuss the recent Justice Department report on Ferguson.

Federal prosecutors may not have been able to reach the legal bar needed to bring a civil rights case against Darren Wilson — the white officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown — but the emails contained in an investigation into the police department were damning enough. The casual, slashing racism directed at black people in particular and black people in general, sears the mind.

Among the most shocking revelation in the 102-page Justice Department report: every time a Ferguson police dog bit somebody, that person was black.

This is what transparency looks like.

Transparency of a different sort was on trial at the Supreme Court, in critical arguments that could determine the future of the president’s signature achievement — the Affordable Care Act now indelibly known as Obamacare.

After failing to get the act declared unconstitutional the last time a challenge made it to the Supreme Court, ACA opponents found a new approach — arguing that the administration secretly tried to trick people into signing up.

Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal offers a look at the Supreme Court arguments, plus Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress and Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute give two takes on the case.

The argument centers on a line in the law that says states must be the ones to create the insurance exchanges that make the insurance affordable. If the states opt out of the exchanges — and many have — the Federal government has been setting up exchanges instead. That, opponents say, is the trick.

The justices now have to decide whether that twists existing law, and if it does, whether millions will now be forced out of affordable insurance plans.

That will require some clarity.

And Congress has been wrestling with its own sometimes murky politics. What seems to be clear is that most lawmakers support national security and oppose government shutdowns. They support Israel and don’t trust Iran. But they just can’t agree on how to achieve even these commonly held goals.

So perhaps the lesson is that in government and politics, clarity is not the prize we say it is. And that even when things are clear, we learn things we’d rather not know.

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