Odds 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 worldwide. 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, Halliburton 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.
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