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by Laramie Boyd
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In California it's Sunshine Week, from March 10 to march 16. The idea is that there is
a need to maintain open government and freedom of information at both the state and national level. Brian Nestande, a representative
from Palm Desert, has seen the majority party rushing to pass major legislation in the middle of the night, leaving no time for the
laws to be studied before they are passed. He has seen the Legislature pass empty budget bills, keeping lawmakers in the dark about
the details. Nestande believes every bill should be in print and on line at least 72 hours prior to a final passage vote.
Laura Olson, an Associated Press reporter, is keeping her eyes on lawmakers in California where public disclosure rules are needed
as companies search for oil using a technique called fracturing. Here, high-pressure blasts of water and chemicals try to release
oil from deep rock formations. Some feel this method may contaminate water supplies or endanger public health. California is the 3rd
largest producer of oil in the United States, and so reasonable oversight and public disclosure should be part of any legislation.
Other states have placed a moratorium on this procedure.
The federal government's Freedom
of Information Act, signed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, states that citizens can compel the government to turn over copies of files
and records, for very little, if any cost, within 20 working days. An exception would be if the information would compromise national
security, violate personal privacy, or expose business secrets in certain areas, and these claims need to be justified. President
Obama promised that in his administration, "openness prevails, unprecedented levels of openness in government." A few statistics in
a March 11, 2013 Associated Press report may indicate whether or not this goal has come to pass.
This year, our government, led by the CIA and Pentagon, has rejected 1/3 of the requests for information, citing they couldn't find
the data, or the person requesting the information wouldn't pay a fee, or the files involved national security. The year Osama bin
Laden was killed, 5223 requests were denied, the CIA accounting for 60% of requests made to them. And the Pentagon failed to respond
in 50% of the demands for information.
Consider a U.S. Park Ranger's claim that the Obama
Administration wants the public to "feel the pain" of the current budget cuts. The Ranger states that the National Park Service could
have dealt with cuts in a way that would have had a minimal impact on the public, but instead park staff were ordered, secretly, to
cancel or cut events and services, like talks and tours, that the public would feel immediately.
Alexander Abdo of the ACLU said "We've seen a meteoric rise in the number of claims against the government's interpretation of the
laws allowing them to keep records secret. The Obama administration is even more aggressive in secrecy than the Bush Administration."
Federal judge Colleen McMahon states that the federal government seems to be able to "proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions
that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping their reasons (for not releasing certain files)
Amy Bennett, Assistant director of OpenTheGovernment.org., believes the government
has not invested the right kind of "technology and ingenuity into answering requests for information under the Freedom of Information
Act." Even the Attorney General has been demanding a reduction on a backlog of "requests waiting in line." So much for the 20 day
It seems now is the time for government to better inform the public in areas where
the people need to know and want to know. Especially where promises are made. And in the final analysis, government transparency is
only as good as the media will allow, by honest, factual reporting. The press and TV should deliver accurate accounts of events, not
omitting news they don't want distributed, nor making partisan interpretations of the news and politically selective information.
Phil Boren of Palm desert, California, believes "We need a press that will call out the lies our lawmakers tell us and challenge resulting
legislation." The citizens of America need that kind of reporting, and they need it badly and they need it now.
Citizens should demand it, and the government should provide it, that's the bottom line.