Mudcat Café message #1692638 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #62901   Message #1692638
Posted By: Amos
13-Mar-06 - 08:46 PM
Thread Name: BS: Popular Views of the Bush Administration
Subject: RE: BS: Popular Views of the Bush Administration
Subject: Leahy: The assault on the public's right to know

http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/
20060312/OPINI
ON/603120329/1006&theme
The assault on the public's right to know

By Sen. Patrick Leahy

March 12, 2006
As we take stock during the second annual "Sunshine Week," we
confront the disturbing reality that the foundations of our open government are under
direct assault from the first White House in modern times that is openly
hostile to the public's right to know.

The right to know is a cornerstone of our democracy. Without it,
citizens
are kept in the dark about key policy decisions that directly affect
their lives. Without open government, citizens cannot make informed choices
at the ballot box. Without access to public documents and a vibrant free press,
officials can make decisions in the shadows, often in collusion with
special interests, escaping accountability for their actions. And once
eroded, these rights are hard to win back.

The right to know is nourished by openness and vigorous congressional
oversight of federal agencies, but both are sorely lacking, and
government effectiveness and accountability have been among the casualties.

The disastrous failure to prepare for and respond to Hurricane
Katrina is only the most recent example, but a glaring one. Despite misleading
assertions in the storm's horrific aftermath, we now know that the White
House was warned in advance that the levees could fail in a
hurricane. We have belatedly seen videotapes in which President Bush was cautioned
by FEMA officials of this great danger.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) empowers the American people to
pry information from their government that agencies would prefer to keep
locked
away. Americans learned more about Abu Ghraib and conditions at
Guantanamo
from FOIA requests than from oversight by Congress.

As we celebrate FOIA's fourth decade as law, we also watch its
erosion as a
target of attacks such as when the Administration pushed an overly broad
FOIA waiver for the Department of Homeland Security's charter -- the
single
biggest rollback of FOIA in its 40-year history.

Our free press and the consciences of whistleblowers also serve the
public's
right to know. We would not know of the domestic spying program
conducted in
secret by the National Security Agency, with the full approval of the
White
House, unless the press had revealed it last December. The Department of
Justice is stonewalling Congress's efforts to obtain facts on this
program
while threatening to prosecute reporters who disclosed the illegal
program
to the public.

The Bush administration has kept vital facts secret by silencing
scientists
and experts. We saw it with the gagging of NASA scientist James Hansen,
whose conclusions about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions and
global
warming differed with Administration policy. This administration also
secretly let lobbyists from polluting industries write rules on mercury
emissions, overriding the advice of the EPA's scientists and even
drawing a
harsh rebuke from EPA's inspector general. This tacit war on science
--trumping scientific evidence with ideology -- has also victimized
women's
access to the Plan B pill and cut international family planning funds
which
help the poorest of the poor, even though the evidence is clear that
these
funds reduce the numbers of abortions.

This kind of secrecy produces bad policies, as we saw when the Bush
administration tried to hide the true cost of its Medicare
prescription drug plan from Congress and the American people. While they were twisting
congressional arms for votes on the program, political leaders at
Medicare told Congress the price tag was $400 billion. Medicare's own accountants
projected the cost to be $500 billion to $600 billion, but one of those
career staff, Richard Foster, was threatened with being fired if he told
Congress the truth.

We saw it again when the political leadership of the Justice Department
overruled career lawyers who found that Congressman Tom DeLay's Texas
redistricting plan illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power.
Career attorneys also found that a Georgia voter-identification law would
discriminate against black voters. The Department's political leaders
dismissed these findings and quietly approved both plans. We only
learned of these politically-motivated decisions later when the press obtained
documents and made them public.

In a situation that borders on the absurd, the intelligence agencies
have been quietly reclassifying documents that were open for years. This
program began in 1999 but has exploded under this Administration, which has
reclassified more than 55,000 pages. Even the Archivist of the United
States said he knew "precious little" of the program until it was revealed
by the press. The examples go on and on. The Bush administration has
displayed a near-total disdain for the free press and the public's right to know.

Sunshine Week invites an inventory check on tools like the Freedom of
Information Act that make real the public's right to know. Attacks on
these tools only erode that right. A free, open and accountable democracy
is what our forefathers fought and died for, and it is the duty of each new
generation to protect this vital heritage and inheritance.