Saturday, June 8, 2013

Public and Private

Trey Smith

The way things are supposed to work is that we're supposed to know virtually everything about what they do: that's why they're called public servants. They're supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that's why we're called private individuals.

This dynamic - the hallmark of a healthy and free society - has been radically reversed. Now, they know everything about what we do, and are constantly building systems to know more. Meanwhile, we know less and less about what they do, as they build walls of secrecy behind which they function. That's the imbalance that needs to come to an end. No democracy can be healthy and functional if the most consequential acts of those who wield political power are completely unknown to those to whom they are supposed to be accountable.
~ from On Whistleblowers and Government Threats of Investigation by Glenn Greenwald ~
Greenwald draws a sharp distinction here, one that is SUPPOSED to matter in a free society. Yet, as he aptly points out, the inherent concepts of democracy have been turned on their heads. It seems that very little we private citizens think and do is protected from the prying eyes and ears of government. They watch us. They listen to us. They read what we write. Before we know it, they will figure out a way to climb inside our heads to see what we are thinking, maybe even before we think it!!

On the other side of the coin, the government higher ups are going to great lengths to shield just about everything they think and do -- unless, of course, it advances their agenda or glorifies the state -- from even modest amounts of accountability. Under the tutelage of Presidents Bush and Obama, an ever increasing number of government documents are being designated classified and/or top secret. They have special courts that meet in secret and they won't even share the supposed legal justifications for even a scintilla of their nefarious activities.

In an article that appeared in The Guardian two days prior to the more sensational revelations, we learned that many government officials maintain secret email accounts.
The secret email accounts complicate an agency's legal responsibilities to find and turn over emails in response to congressional or internal investigations, civil lawsuits or public records requests because employees assigned to compile such responses would necessarily need to know about the accounts to search them. Secret accounts also drive perceptions that government officials are trying to hide actions or decisions.
Hopefully, you understand the significance of these accounts. What it means is that, when legal requests are made to read the communiques of public government officials as they discuss and decide policies that impact all of us, many of the most important communications are not released because too few people know of their existence. Consequently, we only get to see WHAT THEY WANT US TO SEE and most of what they want us to see is mere window dressing for what is truly going on.

All of these revelations strike at the heart of a basic question: How can the citizenry hold government accountable when that government hides most of the pertinent information?

One of the hallmarks of the American experiment in democracy is derived from the Declaration of Independence. In that foundational document, we find the phrase, "consent of the governed." The US government is supposed to be by, of and for us, the citizenry. Our elected officials are supposed to represent us. How can we consent if government is estranged from us? How can we consent if we have no clue what our government is up to?

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