12 March 2006

becoming like the former Soviet Union

wow, great column in the alexandria, louisiana paper. we are shocked that this gannett owned garbage can allowed this to be printed.

Jardon: They don’t want you to know that what you don’t know will hurt you

Cynthia Jardon column
By Cynthia Jardon
(318) 487-6376

Today marks the beginning of Sunshine Week. Now stop just a moment, close your eyes, and imagine the sunlight on your face. It’s warm, it’s inviting, and when you open your eyes everything in front of you is in clear view.

That’s Sunshine Week. Only in this case, the idea is that the sunshine lights up the inner workings of government, all of which should be in clear view but often is not.

In 1995, about 3.4 million documents were classified for national security reasons. In 2004 more than 15 million documents were classified. The sad fact is that we are becoming a nation of secrecy.

And it’s costing us a fortune. In 2004, we spent $7.2 billion securing classified documents but only $50 million declassifying documents, according to the U.S. Information Security Oversight Office.

Secrecy costs much more than just the price of hiding information or discovering that which has been hidden. As secrecy has increased, propaganda has ballooned. Government officials are not above sending out misinformation to convince you to do “it” their way. The most used tactic, of course, is fear. You are in danger. The security level is “elevated.” We are constantly warned that another 9/11 is waiting to happen. That was true pre-9/11, too. Nothing has changed.

Can giving government more power and giving up more of our rights keep us safer? Doubtful. The safest nation is a nation with a well-informed citizenry.

It might be a bit melodramatic to say this, but in a very real way we are becoming like the former Soviet Union.

Our government is spying on us. The climate is such that saying anything against your government makes you an outcast and subject to ridicule. We are now subject to what at one time would have been called an illegal search and seizure. We are suspects in our own country. Government hides more and more from us on the grounds of “national security.” Government tells us all is well and what it does is for our own good.

Big Brother is getting bigger and more powerful every day, and we are letting him.

How can you stop it? That starts here at home.

It starts by attending city council, parish jury and school board meetings. Once there become informed, ask questions, demand answers and monitor what your local government is doing with your hard-earned tax money. Demand that their work, votes and discussion are done in public so the public can understand, debate, test, object or agree with their decisions. If you can’t attend, read the local newspaper. It still is the best government watchdog each community has.

A democracy does not thrive just because it is a democracy. Democracy demands participation. Otherwise it will die from lack of care because citizens didn’t participate. You didn’t demand that the rules of democracy be followed.

If “we, the people” do not watch our government officials at all levels, then they believe they can do what they like because no one has said otherwise. Every member of government is only a citizen just like you. If they do not reflect your goals any longer, you must tell them, challenge them or vote them out.

Are you an American patriot? Really? A true patriot understands that patriotism is the job that comes along with citizenship. A patriot votes. A patriot exercises the right to free speech, the right to criticize government, the right to have access to information about the public’s business. Patriots know that the power to govern belongs to the people. That is not something to be abdicated through neglect and indifference.

Do you know what your rights are? If not, find out. That’s the first step in being a true patriot. Then demand those rights. Use those rights. Exercise democracy.

If we don’t challenge officials who foment post-9/11 fear and then use that heightened fear to justify their actions, then we are in danger of abdicating all power to government.

If we don’t stop the erosion of our rights – and you have to know what they are to know when they are being taken away – then we could one day soon be living in a nation only an old Soviet citizen would recognize.

* Cynthia D. Jardon is the editorial page editor of The Town Talk.

Originally published March 12, 2006