Real Wealth Society

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I’ve been thinking about sunshine By Fred Cederholm

Column for on/after Jan. 21st, 2007

I’ve been thinking about sunshine. Actually I’ve been thinking about Sunshine Week, the League of Women Voters, Katrina, Homeland Security, embarrassments, the “siting hearings,” and illumination. Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. It is spearheaded by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, with a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Sunshine Week occurs each year in March.

You see as part of the 2006 observance, an open dialogue/ forum was broadcast from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The topic of discussion was “Are we safer in the dark?” It was an excellent presentation. This coming Thursday evening at 7:00 P.M. the Rochelle Area Chapter of the League of Women Voters will host an open forum at the First National Bank’s VIA Room (in the May Mart Plaza) and will present a DVD of that 90 minute broadcast.
The material on the DVD covers the following questions: Do federal laws such as the Freedom of Information Act promise to guarantee an openness in Government? How do laws passed and policies/ regulations implemented after 9/11 encourage secrecy or openness?
How does transparency affect the government's readiness to implement disaster assistance? What about the public's ability to plan and prevent disasters? What tools and resources work effectively in safeguarding the public's ability to hold government accountable?

A segment of the presentation focuses on one reporter’s futile attempt to learn what chemicals/ toxins were floating in the waters of a submerged New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Not only was the reporter denied access to the information regarding the chemicals, the quantities, and the location/ status of the storage facilities; the first responders to this disaster were denied timely access as well. The reason given by the “stonewallers” for the secrecy was Homeland Security. Security WAS central here, but should not the security and well being of those left stranded to wade in the toxic soup which submerged the City of New Orleans have been the real issue?

Since 9/11 we have seen an escalation in the abuse of the justification of “security” as the basis for withholding data/ information from the public. The actions in Iraq and the global war on terror have compounded the secrecy as well as the attacks on (and deferrals of) so many of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Is the true public interest really served by withholding the facts and keeping US/us in the dark? How much of the secrecy is justified because disclosure is dangerous? How much of the secrecy is really justified because it covers-up or obfuscates the embarrassments, the mistakes, or the mis-deeds of those in the government working on our behalf?

This week we are experiencing the third attempt to secure a major expansion of our local landfill. The siting hearings are open to the public and any citizen will be given the opportunity to listen to the sworn testimony of the experts as well as to make their own comments/ concerns known. Hundreds of pages of reports, analyses, and studies have been made available to the public at several locations. I am truly in awe of the openness of the process and lengths to which the public has been brought into the loop. We (and future generations) all have an interest in the outcome of the expansion, but the “system” of openness applied in this case has many implications to other matters affecting us at the local, state and federal levels. Why can’t the public be trusted with such “illumination” there as well? It works here.

We are only beginning to realize “wealth” of information being accumulated by our government on every minutia of our daily lives – done in the name of security. We, however, are left the poorer and more vulnerable because we do not know what is out there - such riches are not being shared with us. Even if we ask about/for it, will we be given timely access? Is that really an “offensive strategy” to make us safer? Or… is it truly an “offend-sive invasion” of privacy – snooping for snooping’s sake alone?

Understanding comes from knowledge and knowledge comes from the openness of government and the availability of information to the public. Knowledge empowers the people. So much of the information accumulated by various levels of government was done so in the name of serving the people and that accumulation of it was paid for with our tax dollars. If such was done on our behalf at our expense, are We the People… not entitled to an open and timely access to it? Or… “Are we safer in the dark?” I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.

Copyright 2007 Questions, Inc. All rights reserved.

To “audit” this column and to learn more about the subjects discussed, please check out:
Are we safer in the dark? A sunshine week national dialogue (DVD order information available here)
Are we safer in the dark? – an overview MailScanner warning: numerical links are often malicious:
Are We Safer In the Dark?—Questions and Answers



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