Tag Archives: Government accountability

Sharing and exercising the inalienable right to know!

It was just a few days – and an eon – ago that my-post-in-progress focused on President Obama’s signing of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. Passage of the FOIA Improvement Act represents the work of advocacy groups, activist members of Congress, and a concerted effort on the part of members of the press, civil libertarians, good government groups and informed citizens to overcome corporate and other resistance to updating the fifty-year-old legislation.

The President’s signature on June 30 gives cause to celebrate the people’s right to know. That moment was lost in 4th of July pyrotechnics and, sadly, in racial tensions that boiled over in the past few days. As the nation reels from the events in Dallas, Falcon Heights and Baton Rouge, thoughts of FOIA and the urge to celebrate move to the back burner. The right to know is lost in the mix as an edgy citizenry focuses on the right to bear arms to the exclusion of thoughts of the inalienable right to know. Transparency and the fine points of open government seem esoteric, remote, irrelevant.

And yet, the more I consider our plight the more I realize that the right to know is at the very core of our effort to sort things out. I remind myself of the wise words of Christopher Dodd who underscored the fact that “When the public’s right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered.”

How do we know what’s happening around us? We are challenged to think about how we know what we know, who and what determine what we know, who/what are the gatekeepers, what is the role of the media? How do social media challenge the norms, the filters, and the control of the communications media? Who owns and thus controls the channels of communication? Are unfettered exchanges of ignorance and opinion on social media enough to sustain an informed democracy? How do we judge our government – local, state and national – in terms of transparency and accountability to the body politic?

The focus of FOIA is on access to information by and about the government. For many that suggests information related to national security, certainly a prime concern. Still it’s the tip of a complex information infrastructure that is more subtle, more nuanced – information about what’s killing the bees, who’s monitoring the transport of hazardous oil through our cities, why are we plagued with opioids, do GMO’s matter? And what’s all this about climate change?

Access to accurate, unbiased, timely, useful and usable information by and about the government is a fundamental right that is implicit in every aspect of our lives. The right to know is a grounding principle upon which all Americans can agree – if we think about it. The FOIA Improvement Act is a key piece of a complex challenge that faces all of us. It involves trust in government, skills of access, a free press that endorses bold investigative reporting, access to technology, and a shared presumption that every American has the right to know.

These are times that demand that we all take a deep breath to learn about and reflect on basics, including the fundamental right to know. It’s not headline-grabbing stuff, but the right to know is uniquely American. It is a shared right, one that is not and cannot be reserved to the “elites.” It is a shared right that is uniquely deserving of public attention:

The greatest menace to freedom is an inert people. ~ Louis D. Brandeis

Human Rights – Common Threat, Common Theme

When Ursula LeGuin and Pope Francis echo each other’s concern for basic human rights being relegated to mere commodities it is time to take heed. As these intellectual giants remind us, human beings have a certain and inalienable right to access to food and access to information and ideas. The right to food and literature transcend the unfettered pursuit of wealth and the power that it affords. Pope Francis spoke at the International Food and Agriculture conference meeting in Rome.(http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49396#.VHjGY8aC14M). Ursula LeGuin shared her thoughts from the prestigious platform of the 2014 National Book Awards. (http://www.nationalbook.org/amerletters_2014_uleguin.html#.VHjFjcaC14M)

Similarly global voices are speaking out for the human right to Internet access; there is a growing Global Net Neutrality Coalition that now represents more than 35 human rights and technology organizations from 19 countries. (http://thisisnetneutrality.org) Andrea Germanos has written an extensive article on the human right to Internet access in the November 24, 2014 issue o f Common Dreams. (http://www.commondreams.org/news/2014/11/24/global-survey-internet-access-should-be-human-right.

Clearly, the very definition of human rights is on our collective consciousness.

On December 10, 2014, we will celebrate Human Rights Day, commemorating the date on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaiming its principles as the “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” The theme of Human Rights Day 2014 is Human Rights 365. There will be local, national and international commemorations of the day and of the achievements of human rights activists over the decades.

To put the issues of 2014 in perspective it is enlightening to review the summary of human rights achievements that have been made since the 1948 Declaration. Since 1993 the High Commissioner for Human Rights has borne the responsibility to advocate, monitor, and train advocates as well as to contribute to legislative and policy reforms to increase accountability for human rights violations and to advance human rights. A summary of achievements over the past two decades suggests a broad range of initiatives ranging from the rights of victims of torture to the rights of LGBT individuals, people with disabilities, rights of the elderly, women’s rights and the human rights responsibilities of business enterprises. (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/OHCHR20_Backup/Pages/Achievements.aspx)

In 2013, on the 20th anniversary of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights the OHCHR issued a review of accomplishments. (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/OHCHR20_Backup/Pages/Achievements.asp)

A pervasive message emanates from the chorus of voices calling for attention to the universality of human rights. The 2013 report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights highlights the single human right that trumps the rampant forces that threaten the inherent rights of human beings on every front:

There is heightened awareness and growing demand by people worldwide for greater transparency and accountability from government and for the right to participate fully in public life. 

 Millions of people have gone on to the streets over the past few years, in countries all across the world. They have been asking for their right to participate fully in the important decisions and policies affecting their daily lives, at the international, national and the local levels.

Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives. Every person shall have the right to vote and be elected, and to have access to public service, as well as to free expression, assembly and association. These are among the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which 167 States are party. And they have been restated in many similar ways in other laws and documents.

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Transparency, which engenders truth, is the foundation for all this.

Robert David Steele 

The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth, and Trust

 

 

The Blame Game Puts Us All to Shame

Eons ago when I was in the single parent role, I would come home from work to hear the strident tones of my younger son protesting from the upstairs, “NMF!”   Even in the pre-acronym age, I knew that meant “not my fault.”

I still wave the “NMF” defense at times.  I appreciate the artful use of a knee-jerk defensive screen.  After all, I tell myself, NMF affects only the self-determined innocent accused.  By hoisting his NMF defense Steve impugned no one and did no real harm to another.  It remained to the potential accuser – me — to nab the miscreant.  In other words, he deflected but did not blame.

Today the nation is paralyzed by a far greater evil, the pervasive and pernicious plague of Blame.  Not content with a simple NMF defense, politicians, corporate giants, the media, the clergy, bankers, educators and too many mere mortals go on the offense by hurling Blame with abandon.

Blame is a charge that resists certain confirmation with the added power that it diverts the attention of the accuser.

Our litigious and political systems exist on Blame – that’s where the profit is, that’s where the votes reside.  While most of us are content with an NMF posture, the Deciders deftly use Blame to shape our perceptions.  Well-orchestrated Blame can basically rewrite the narrative.

Still, Blame serves no particular purpose other than to deflect, even abnegate, responsibility for decisions and actions.

Whether it’s weariness, apathy or a feeling of powerlessness,  We the People fret from the sidelines as the Deciders play an endless Blame game – a pervasive and pernicious plague on the nation.  Clearly, it’s NMF, so who can we blame for our collective complicity?