Category Archives: Freedom of Information

We the People deserve, depend on and demand truth

The control of information is something the elite always does, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people~ Tom Clancy

Yesterday, as we Americans celebrated the Fourth of July 2018 we honored this nation’s tradition of giving a nod to the Forefathers, joining the community festivities and relaxing on our shared national observance of the truths “made evident” in the Declaration of Independence.  And yet, in these troubled times, many Americans eschew the festivities and stress out instead on the swamp-draining reality in which we are drowning….

As a fierce proponent for open government my thoughts inevitably turn to the fact that it was on July 4, 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act  https://foift.org/resources/freedom-information-act/– a factoid notably absent from public discourse, much less presidential proclamations…..

In truth, reflections on the passage of FOIA are fraught with pain for many.  We had such hope.  Skimming through the scores of FOI-related blog posts I’ve written In recent times (145 in total according to the omniscient system….)  I am appalled at the profound impact that changing times are having on the tone and focus of those posts.

Earlier posts honed in on information-seeking skills – “information literacy”, “critical thinking,” “information power” and related topics.  The onus was consistently on the seeker of truth, a truth that was presumed/assumed to be true……

Over time, particularly over the past year, emphasis of the posts is on the source of information – the eroding of truth, manipulation of the facts, “fake news” “alternative facts” and malevolent efforts to debunk the truth.

In relatively recent times Information has become a commodity to be manipulated, twisted, ultimately weaponized.  Essential data are missing because data are not collected – real facts are twisted to shape opinion – data are weaponized to influence discourse and decisions.  Clever forces, eager to seize the opportunities of information technology, have seized the power of information.  The result is a citizenry that is drowning in the misinformation/disinformation swamp.

As with all liars weaponizers of information depend on their victims to be hapless believers of alternative facts and innuendo.  They feed on weakness, fear, lack of confidence, devoid of critical thinking skills.

More than any time since our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence  We the People must exercise – flaunt – our independence by embracing our power.  Our mighty challenge is to hone the skills and exercise our power to  seek the truth.

Our challenge today is difficult and critical.   In this era of well-crafted lies we must strengthen in ourselves and in others the confidence that critical thinking demands.  The forefathers expected no less.   History demands that we rise to the occasion, that we reach out, affirm our values, hone the skills and the internal strength to resist – and eventually repel – distortion of truth and manipulation of a complicit citizenry

The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.    J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
See also this and other previous posts:  https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2018/03/05/putting-a-face-on-truth-seeking/
Advertisements

Places to go, things to do in March

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when adults are afraid of the light.” Attributed to Plato, (428 BC – 348 BC).

At times it seems that the designation of special months is at best redundant, sometimes trying to cram a millennium of history into a 30-day span.  And yet, it’s good to focus, and so we highlight a couple of monumental issues that claim March as their month to shine.

  • Women’s History is of relatively recent origin. First identified in 1982 as Women’s History Week the recognition gathered momentum and time until 1995 when the topic of women’s history flowered as an entire month.  The Law Library of Congress has actually collected the laws, proclamations and resolutions related to the saga of Women’s History Month.  The National Archives offers an informative – and fun – starting point to understanding the history:  https://womenshistorymonth.gov    Check out the Women’s History Month website sponsored by the National Women’s History Project here:  http://www.nwhp.org/about-2/our-history/   Other sites are sponsored by the National Park Service, the Smithsonian and the National Endowment for the Humanities, all of which offer myriad programs and resources that serve as starting points for local groups that need a spark to light a fire under their Women’s History Month plans.

* * *

The calendar of Women’s History Month activities is prodigious – just a couple of highlights give a flavor:

  • The East Side Freedom Library and the Minnesota Historical Society are working together on a special program set for Saturday, March 24, 1:00 PM at ESFL. Objectivity: ’68 to today: Women’s activism: Dolores Huerta.  The program includes a play written by the MNHS Teen Action Group and the examination of historical objects from the MNHS collection.  Focus is on Dolores Huerta, an unsung figure in the fight for equality.  Also featured is an examination of  the intersections between the women’s movement and race, communities in Minnesota and the national context, labor rights and civil rights.
  • Also at ESFL, “Let’s Talk about Hmong Women: Leadership Thursday, March 15, 6:30 pm.  This is the first in a four-part series of conversations led by members of Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together.  Future conversations are set for June 1 (Patriarchy), September 13 (Motherhood), and November 8 (spirituality)
  • At the U of M Walter Library, March 30 – “Make or Break: Women in Technology Rich Spaces” 9:30 AM-11:00AM.  Women from across the U of M campus discuss the topic.  Speakers include Charlene Ellingson, Samantha Thi Porter, Robin Schwartzman and Simone Vuong.  Registration required.

Also at the University of Minnesota:

Lots happening at the State Capitol in days to come, including these events:

Aging with Dignity and Respect: It’s a social justice issue.    Tuesday, March 20, 1:00 PM, East Side Neighborhood Services, 1700 Second Street NE, Mpls.  Free and Open.  Sponsored by Vital Aging Network.  Register 651 917 4652.

World Storytelling Day (www.globalastorytellingday.org)  is an annual celebration of the theme “If I can hear our story, it’s harder for me to hate you.”  The theme explored this year by local advocates is “Wise Fools: Wisdom on the folly of war.”  Storytelling Day 2018 will be celebrated locally on Tuesday, March 20 at the Landmark Center in downtown St Paul (www.landmarkcenter.org) Six storytellers will share stories reflecting the theme.  The event is free and open.  Learn more about the event and prime mover Larry Johnson here: (https://www.hometownsource.com/sun_post/community/golden-valley-resident-draws-international-attention-to-the-art-of/article_282a7376-1c9f-11e8-83cc-1f20f00f22c1.html

“Working—The Musical” reflects “the hopes dreams and heartbreak of the American working class expressed in the music of Lin-Manuel Miranda, James Taylor and others.  The show runs March 16-18 at The O’Shaughnessy on the campus of St. Catherine University. https://oshag.stkate.edu/events/category/series/working-the-musical/

Opening March 14 at the American Craft Council  – Ani Kasten, artist, ceramist and sculptor.  Details here: https://craftcouncil.org/event/ani-kasten-ceramists-journey

The National Book Critics Circle has announced finalists for 2017 awards: http://bookcritics.org/blog/archive/national-book-critics-circle-announces-finalists-for-2017-awards

Plans are well underway for the 37th annual Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival (https://filmfreeway.com/mspiff)  Focus this year will be on Chinese cinema with films from China to be presented throughout the Festival.

Upcoming on Talk of the Stacks sponsored by Friends of the Hennepin County Library:  Alex Sager on Tuesday, April 24 and Tracy Smith on May 16. https://www.supporthclib.org/sites/default/files/2018%20Talk%20of%20the%20Stacks%20Press%20Release.pdf

“To Be Honest” is the theme of a series of programs sponsored  by The Loft, March through May. (https://www.loft.org/events__programs/thematic_series/to_be_honest/)

Poet Billy Collins hosts a unique resource designed to create a love of poetry with young people.  Poetry 180 offers a poem a day for high school students – the 180 refers to the fact that the project is for school days only. https://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/

Some fun links:

Sunshine Week March 11-17, 2018

See also: Women’s history month reads:  https://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/1186-elaine-f-weiss-what-to-read-this-women-s-history-month?rto=x_gr_e_nl_general&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=march062018&utm_content=bookend2womenshistory&ref_=pe_3097180_272564230
 

SUNSHINE WEEK MARCH 11-17, 2018

Sunshine Week March 11-17, 2018

As we emerge from the snowbanks and the Winter of Our Extreme Discontent, it is encouraging to know that Sunshine Week is at hand.   (http://sunshineweek.org)  This year we honor and applaud with unparalleled appreciation the role of a free press as the bulwark of this democracy.

Each year the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCCOGI)  takes a lead in Minnesota’s recognition of Sunshine Week.    One important aspect of MNCOGI’s celebration of Sunshine Week is selection of the recipient of the John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award.

MNCOGI has announced that the John R. Finnegan Award 2018 will honor Star Tribune reporter Chris Serres.  Serres is recognized for his investigative series Left to Suffer, an in-depth study and report on the painful stories of elder abuse victims and their families.   Serres’ publication in the Star Tribune reflects the journalist’s exhaustive review of audit reports, state records and other public information resources.  The series has led to readers’ awareness of the crisis and to bold action on the part of advocacy groups and the Governor.

The Coalition has also announced that attorney Paul Hannah will be honored with the Finnegan Freedom of Information Career Achievement Award.

Both awards will be presented at the annual Freedom of Information Day recognition set for Friday, March 16, 1:00 p.m. at Minneapolis Central Library Pohlad Auditorium.

What I’m thinking about more and more these days is simply the importance of transparency, and Jefferson’s saying that he’d rather have a free press without a government than a government without a free press .~ Esther Dyson

 

 

 

 

Bamboozled no more…..

If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle.  We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth.  The bamboozle has captured us.  It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.  Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.  ~ Carl Sagan

One way to come to grips with the challenge We the People face at this juncture is to frame the information crisis in an alternate context.  This repot by First Draft News is a useful tool to reorder the mental format for thinking.  One year into the Era of Our Discontent, we struggle mightily to recognize the complexity of information disorder, to recognize that the very premise is “disorder.”  We fail to recognize – or perhaps admit – that the complexity of information disorder online” starts from the premise of “disorder”.  Consider this:  https://firstdraftnews.org/coe_infodisorder/

The struggle to unravel the intent and complexities of our information state is a shared challenge:

We the People face today’s challenge with both heads and hearts.  Take just a minute to heed the words and appreciate the attitudes of these wise gentleman as they speak with both:  https://vimeo.com/253191   To read their position paper on Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression click here: https://jmp.princeton.edu/statement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hazelton Day of Action: 30 years after Court decision re. student press rights

Back in the pre-digital day “the press” referred to ink on paper – and students cut their journalistic teeth by meeting strict deadlines imposed by the student newspaper.

Because I was one of those fledgling “journalists” I understand deadlines and eleventh hour news tips. As a result, when I learned a few minutes ago that tomorrow, January 31, is Hazelwood Day of Action I knew the drill!

According to the Student Press Law Center (http://www.splc.org), an Inside the Beltway youth group, January 2018 marks thirty years since the Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier decision. This I just learned was a landmark Supreme Court decision that determined that “public school curricular student newspapers that have not been established as forums for student expression are subject to a lower level of First Amendment protection than independent student expression or newspapers established (by policy or practice) as forums for student expression.” (Read all about it here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hazelwood_School_District_v._Kuhlmeier

The Student Press Law Center plans to share information and ideas on Facebook Live all day.  At the top of every hour SPLC will broadcast ten minute discussions by people who were involved in the Hazelwood decision as well as other experts on the history and the Supreme Court case.  There will also be a 30-minute #CureHazelwood Twitter blast.  Details to be posted on the SPLC site.

The SPL site also lists a number of resources available from organizations concerned about students’ rights.  These include the following statements about free expression:

From the Journalism Education Association:

Statements about free expression:

http://jea.org/home/about-jea/statements/

http://jeasprc.org

From the National Council of Teachers of English:

Hazelwood and students’ right to write. http://www2.ncte.org/blog/2015/05/hazelwood-students-right-write/

An earlier post on this blog also explores the issue of student journalists’ rights: https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/08/14/new-and-pending-laws-protect-rights-of-students-who-write/

My freshman year at Harrison High School, I saw a journalism class where students were putting out a weekly newspaper. It touched a responsive chord in me.  Irv Kupcinet, American journalist

 

 

 

 

Truth ain’t goin’ away – So what do we do now?

A year ago this weekend we were inaugurating the 45th President of the US.  We were marching with pride in the Women’s March and girding our loins for what was to come.  A year ago I posted these comparatively hopeful comments. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/information-and-media-not-weapons-but-tools/  Somehow I thought we would recognize and eschew the attack on truth and facts and informed citizenship that was to follow.

As the weeks and months passed, reality happened and hope faded with each proclamation, every disruption of information integrity, every political appointment, every charge that the press is the “enemy of the people,” every assault to truth that emanated from the Oval Office and environs.  The more I observed the more I admitted what a well-oiled army of deconstructionists had invaded the nation.  They came with a diabolical action plan brilliantly designed to attack the very essence of an informed democracy.  As a lifetime protagonist for a free press, an informed public and the fundamental principle of truth, I was and am cut to the proverbial quick.

In truth, hope faltered.  Though I kept writing blog posts, they were sappy – most never posted. Posted blogs were generally limited to calendars of events, posts that passed on information produced by organizations and individuals whose words and acts were braver and more articulate than my own.  Mine was silent resistance here to the insidious and methodical attack on truth.   I started to characterize this blog as Moping Around with Mary……

The anniversary of the inauguration prodded me back to Poking.  It’s clear that industry is not going to honestly address, much less solve, the onslaught of alternative facts, propaganda, foreign interference or any other strategy that cuts into corporate profits.  Consider the latest brain burst from Mark Zuckerberg: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/1611a52828318ba7

Clearly, it cannot remain to the gurus of corporate America to lead the crusade for truth.

And so I’m back to thinking and writing,  sharing on this blog, more about how it remains to us as thoughtful individuals, as institutions and as a society to “speak truth to power.”  It takes work and guts.  And yet, as the great philosopher Elvis Presley who advised us that “truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.”  Though I’ll continue calendar highlights that might fall through the cracks, I’ll go back to more thought posts about basic principles of truth, the right and responsibility to know, freedom of the press and the insidious peril to this democracy.

Words matter.  Truth matters.  Ideas and opinions matter.  Inspired by the weekend Women’s March I’m determined to stop moping and return to poking around and speaking out.  My hope is to “go high” with renewed energy and commitment to truth and to the ways in which the press, education, libraries, civic discourse and individual engagement and action can keep hope alive.

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. ~~Desmond Tutu

 

Community newspapers serve and create relationships

National Newspaper Week (October 1-7. 2017) is far too little time to learn and think about the robust range of newspapers on which we daily depend but occasionally take for granted.  To characterize the genre characterized as “community newspapers” is an overwhelming task.  In general community newspapers are either targeted to a specific geographic area or to a community of interest.

A good way to get a sense of the character and scope of Minnesota’s community newspapers is to dip into the Minnesota Newspaper Association listing for  “special interest newspapers: http://mnnews.com/index.php/special-interest-newspapers/   If you don’t find what you’re looking for, try this listing: http://www.usnpl.com/mnnews.php   You will no doubt  be surprised at the diversity of newspapers and of the communities they inform, entertain and to whom they give voice.

Community newspapers meet the interests of more than 150,000 of us who read one or more community newspapers on a regular basis.  We read to get a feel for the opinions of our neighbors or members of a shared interest group, to follow our elected officials, to understand a shared history, to shop for bargains, to find out what’s playing at the local theater, musical venue or athletic facility or just to follow the garage sales.

Community newspapers have played a major role in the nation’s editorial history.  It all began on September 25, 1690, when Benjamin Harris published Publick Occurrences: Both Foreign and Domestic.  And therein lies a short history with heavy free press implications: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Harrison

The history of what we now characterize as “community newspapers” reflects the nation’s growth and diversity – social, religious, geographic, and political.   Though today’s community newspapers may be digital rather than paper, the content remains targeted to a special readership. And many community newspapers can still be found at the newsstand, primed to be read on the bus or by the millions of Americans who prefer print or lack access to broadband….

Bottom line, as long as our right to a free press, our commitment to independent thinking, our inclination to connect with like-minded folk, and our freedom vote remain unfettered we celebrate the powerful role that community newspapers play in our communities and in our democracy.

 The bigger the information media, the less courage and freedom they allow. Bigness means weakness – Eric Sevareid, The Press and the People

 ADDENDA –