Many of us do not care to learn what people in positions of power are doing. We are content going about our daily routines, making money, paying bills, losing ourselves in entertainment and socializing.
As one friend told me, “why should I vote in an election when it won’t matter?”
Well, it could be said that nothing matters as long as it isn’t causing you direct grief at the moment. But as we all know, some things take a while to grow before they start causing us tangible problems. Some things, like the “boiled frog syndrome”, change so slowly that we don’t even realize the world has transformed around us, and we suddenly find ourselves boiling in hot water.
Many of the little articles I’ve written rely on information that is currently freely available on the internet, in publications and directly from the people involved in the issues.
If we look back at events that have shaped our current collective obsessions, like the 9/11 attack, we see things happening like a stunning lack of available information related to the causes, the causal ties, and we continually hit up against walls of secrecy and information obstruction. Our intelligence agencies have even been directed by the current administration to refrain from following certain routes that their investigations might take them in their efforts to uncover the full truths.
Since that time, many of our Constitutional rights are being challenged and eroded.
Simultaneously, the Judicial Branch of the US government is under seige. People are being imprisoned without warrant and kept from lawyers and trials. Judges are being accused of enforcing their own agendas by any ruling they make that is not in line with the current administration. Most disturbingly, the current adminstration is doing its best to place judges into the system that place their own religious beliefs or “party loyalty” above the Law – judicial nominations to high courts have even included people who have never had any judicial experience whatsoever.
We have invaded a foreign country with no ties, and, in fact, who are known enemies of the people apparently responsible for the 9/11 attack. We have driven up petroleum prices to insane highs and are now going to start sacrificing our own environment to squeeze out the last little bits of oil we have left to ensure profit for our dying oil industry – Texas.
Our leaders have lied and manipulated both Congress and We the People to achieve their goals.
They speak of God – the God of Truth and Love. The God of turning the other cheek. The God of Charity and Compassion.
They give money to the rich, and take money away from the poor.
They pour money into a new government agency that is meant to monitor not only the world, but us – its own citizenry. An agency that has unprecidented powers, and little accountability. An agency that can keep just about any information it wants from us. An agency that can command one of us to never mention to anyone that they took away one of our friends.
Mike pointed me to an article in Slate Magazine called The Age of Missing Information – The Bush administration’s campaign against openness. In it, Steven Aftergood, who monitors closely issues related to government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, speaks to the growing trend of the Bush Administration to classify or just even make unavailable information to us.
Classification of information has increased by 75% since Bush took office – making it unavailable. As we know from a previous article, this even includes such things as knowing about certain laws – laws that we can break without even knowing they exist.
There is a trend to classify information about the amount of industrial pollution created, or toxic waste produced by companies. To allow for secret use of public lands. In general, to allow the government, and select private sector industries, to do things without ever having to disclose that they’re doing anything.
Steven also mentions several agencies that historically publish information available to the public that are now restricting the public’s access to this information, including the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency which produces wonderful maps that are used widely by environmentalists, engineers, biologists, etc.
Even the Environmental Protection Agency is starting to restrict access to their information.
When I was working with Battelle Memorial Institute they began a program of researching into the Human Radiation Experiments performed on Hanford employees and the surrounding population and environment beginning in the 1940’s. Hanford is a US DOE (Department of Energy) facility and Battelle got involved with it for the DOE in the 1960’s.
The Hanford Human Radiation Experiments were only part of a much larger DOE project involving several facilities around the country. It began with a car accident victim being injected directly with plutonium to see what would happen. Exposure to different kinds of radiation and studies of different absorbtion properties were of interest.
For example, at Hanford, in one experiment about 8,000 curies of radioactive iodine and about 20,000 curies of radioactive xenon were intentionally released from a separation plant stack into the surrounding countryside. In another, employees were given radioactive iodine-131 in milk.
Hanford scientist monitored the radiation effects on the surrounding environment wildlife. They monitored the radiation effects on local Indian tribes.
So here we have just one little example of what can happen “behind the scenes”. It is naif to believe similar things do not occur still.
With such secrecy, how does the Hanford Human Radiation Experiments come to light? Well, apart from accidents that kept happening to people inside the facility, which can make people talk:
1964 President Johnson ordered the gradual shutdown of the Hanford nuclear plants. This caused some economic panic locally.
1971 the last nuclear plant at Hanford was closed.
1973 – in May, the Seattle PI reported that 100 billion gallons of toxic waste were spilled during the years of Hanford operations. In June, Hanford reports that a 115,000 gallon leak from a toxic tank just happend.
1975 the Seattle PI reports that at least 60 “unplanned” released of radioactivity occured. This was a result of the very first environmental impact statement about Hanford compiled by the Federal Energy Research and Development Administration.
1978 the manager of Hanford’s waste surveillance program resigns saying that the DOE covered up lots of leaks that occurred.
1983 the DOE re-opens the plutonium uranium extraction (PUREX) plant at Hanford.
1984 the DOE temporarily shut down the PUREX plant because thorium emissions exceeded standards. Later it changed its story and said plutonium emissions prompted the closure.
1985 – July, the Spokane Spokesman-Review published the first article about Hanford “downwinders”.
1985 – October, a public forum was held where Hanford’s DOE manager announced that the DOE would provide summary information about Hanford’s past emissions. A few days later, HEAL (a citizen’s group) and the Spokane Physicians for Social Responsibility held a symposium “Human Health and Hanford”. A few days later than that, the DOE said they would release the actual raw data about Hanford’s radioactive emissions in addition to the summary information they promised.
1985 – December, the Washington State Nuclear Waste Board passed a resolution calling for an independent health study of Hanford downwinders.
1986 – January, HEAL files under the Freedom of Information Act to assure they get the right documentation from the DOE.
1986 – February, the DOE releases 19,000 pages of documentation which reveals much.
After this, local Indian tribes and residents begin to file lawsuits, and the Human Irradiation Experiments come to light. The local state governments of Washington, Oregon and Idaho get involved, and the DOE begins to cooperate with medical and health research related to past victims and current victims.
IMPORANT NOTE: The Freedom of Information Act.
The current trend we are in is eroding considerably the power of the Freedom of Information Act. Many policies enacted and laws passed recently allow agencies to completely bypass the Act, making public accountability impossible.
On Febrary 16th 2005 Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the bill S.394 which is mean to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act in the wake of our new climate of secrecy and non-accountability. It is called the OPEN Government Act of 2005.
I believe we desperately need this Act. The ACLU has an information page on it and a way to contact your legislators, if you like.
As Steven says in his article:
The information blackout may serve the short-term interests of the present administration, which is allergic to criticism or even to probing questions. But it is a disservice to the country. Worst of all, the Bush administration’s information policies are conditioning Americans to lower their expectations of government accountability and to doubt their own ability to challenge their political leaders.
Information is the oxygen of democracy. Day by day, the Bush administration is cutting off the supply.