March 16, 2005
By Ken Sanders
are, that, if asked, most Americans would define democracy as a
government of, by, and for the people. Likewise, most Americans
would consider America's "grand experiment" to be the shining example
of democratic government, to be exported and worshiped world-wide.
These are, after all, the fairy tales told to us in school.
However, in order for a government to properly be of and by the
people, the people, namely "we," must have some idea of what our
government is doing. Otherwise, while perhaps called a democracy,
it becomes a government over the people and in which we have little,
if any, say. Sadly, not only do we not have a clue about our government's
actions, our government is systematically deeming more and more
information about its activities improper for public consumption.
Since 2001, the number of government documents stamped "secret"
by the Bush administration has steadily increased nearly 75 percent,
from 9 million to 16 million. This increase in clandestine governance
stems directly from Executive Order 12958 wherein President Bush
broadened the classification of secret and confidential government
information and ordered government agencies to restrict disclosures
under the Freedom of Information Act.
In response to Bush's order that the public be left in the dark,
government agencies are increasingly categorizing previously unclassified
materials as secret and withdrawing previously public information
from their Internet sites.
For instance, the Federal Aviation Administration removed from
its web site records of enforcement actions taken against airlines
and pilots. Similarly, the Environmental Protection Agency deleted
from its web site information that would allow citizens to find
out about chemical accidents in or near their cities and towns.
Last month, the Federal Communications Commission requested an exemption
from the open meeting requirements under federal law.
Most laughably, the Transportation Security Administration refused
to disclose the identity of its ombudsman whose job is to interact
with the public regarding airport security. Of no laughing matter,
however, was the CIA's deletion from Charles Duefler's report on
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction the identities of U.S. companies
that conducted business with Saddam Hussein under the U.N. Oil for
Food Program. Not surprisingly, Haliburton was one such U.S. company.
When the Bush administration doesn't hide information outright,
it deceives by manipulating and eliminating inconvenient facts or
by silencing dissenting voices. For instance, large numbers of scientists
at the Fish and Wildlife Service recently reported that they were
ordered to alter their scientific findings regarding endangered
species when such findings conflicted with White House policy. Last
week, the Government Accountability Office reported that the EPA
distorted its analysis of mercury pollution in order to promote
the Bush administration's proposed market-based regulations. Previously,
President Bush dismissed two well-respected scientists from the
Presidential Advisory Counsel on Bioethics not because they were
unqualified, but because they disagreed with Bush on stem-cell research.
A telling statement on the Bush administration's utter contempt
for the notion of a government of and by the people is the fact
that during his first term government agencies' public relations
staffs grew faster (9 percent) than the federal work force as a
whole (6 percent). The sole purpose of public affairs officials
and PR campaigns is nothing other than to regulate which and what
type of information gets disseminated to the public. Only positive
and helpful information. Nothing negative or off-message.
Through his PR posse, Bush seeks to give the American people only
the facts that are helpful to him and which further his ends. Our
compliant news media is more than happy to help Bush in this endeavor.
Whatever facts can't be sufficiently filtered through a PR filter
can simply be deleted or, better yet, classified as secret and dangerous
to national security. Whatever the means, the end result is a mockery
of what most Americans expect in a democracy.