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Is Senator Cornyn Sincere About Freedom of Information?

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Texas Senator John Cornyn was very self-congratulatory in his guest columnist article in the January 3rd edition of the north Houston newspaper, the Villager. He should be. It’s great to see a Texas senator improve upon a critical piece of the democratic fabric of our nation, the Freedom of Information Act, which was signed into law by another Texan, then president Lyndon Johnson. It established by law that there should be a free flow of information to the people who need it most, the voters.

But I just have to wonder about his sincerity. Why? What makes me suspicious is his unyielding support for the very person who has on numerous occasions symbolically spat upon that very piece of legislation. That person is George W. Bush. Consider the first words of the first sentence of the Washington Post article on the new Cornyn-Leahy bill…”Taking aim at Bush administration secrecy…”. Consider this quote from Hugh Urban at Ohio State University; “…the Bush administration is also arguably the most secretive in U.S. history, displaying an intense preoccupation with information control. Bush and Cheney have been described by various observers as having an “obsession with secrecy”, even a “secrecy fetish” that is “the most secretive of our lifetime” and “worse than Watergate”.” In fact Rep. Henry Waxman published a stinging essay on Bush administration secrecy in September of 2004 stating “…there has been a consistent pattern in the Administration’s actions: laws that are designed to promote public access to information have been undermined, while laws that authorize the government to withhold information or to operate in secret have repeatedly been expanded. The cumulative result is an unprecedented assault on the principle of open government.” In a separate article by Steven Aftergood this assault was described as “The Bush administration’s campaign against openness.” Even Senator Cornyn’s partner in this new legislation, Patrick Leahy, was quoted as saying “In an era of increased government secrecy, we cannot postpone reforming the very act that keeps our government open to the people whose government this is.” This secrecy is not a product of the war on terror or 9/11. It began the day after Bush’s inauguration in 2001.

So, when Senator Cornyn says he is for openness I can’t help but wonder why he supported (or didn’t speak out against) the president when he: 1) refused to comply with subpoenas for Vice President Cheney and former White House counsel Harriet Myers; 2) refused to release documents concerning the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame; 3) allowed the Vice President’s energy task force and the names of it’s participants to be held in secret; 4) refused to release communications between the Defense Department and Cheney’s office regarding contracts awarded to Halliburton; 5) refused to release documents describing the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib; 6) refused to release memoranda revealing what the White House knew about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction; and on and on and on… Even the White House guest log has become a secret document under this administration.

I fear that what Mr. Cornyn says and what he does are two different things. Oh wait, he’s a politician, and that’s what they do! Or could it be his “unrequited love” for Bush (Houston Chronicle, 2-8-07) that clouds his judgment and prevents him from speaking out concerning the very thing he claimed as a “top legislative priority”, improving government openness?

Most disconcerting is Senator Cornyn’s support of media consolidation. The ownership of our newspapers, radio stations, and television stations has been increasingly consolidated since President Clinton signed into law the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which allowed it. The Bush administration seems to have made expansion of media consolidation a top priority. But is this good for the people of the United States and the free flow of information or the corporations involved? Media consolidation limits the number of voices available to exercise their civic duty to express discontent with their political leaders and, therefore, facilitates the politicians’ ability to operate in secrecy. Fewer voices suppresses free speech and facilitates government secrecy. Just try and find an even moderate political talk show on the radio in the Houston area to offset the right wing pundits Hannity, Limbaugh, Savage, Baker, etc. There aren’t any. What voices do exist on our airwaves have become overly concerned with not offending their mega-corporate owners who line the pockets of the politicians who have promoted media consolidation, and the resulting profits, on their behalf.

Read what Ted Turner, a media mogul himself and founder of CNN, has to say about media consolidation. “…without proper rules, healthy capitalist markets turn into sluggish oligopolies and that is what’s happening in media today. Large corporations are more profit-focused and risk-averse. They often kill local programming because it’s expensive and they push national programming because it’s cheap – even if their decisions run counter to local interests and community values. The loss of independent operators hurts both the media and its citizen-customers…quality suffers, localism suffers, and democracy itself suffers…Loss of localism also undercuts the public-service mission of the media, and this can have dangerous consequences.” As an example Turner cites the incident in 2002 when a train derailed releasing a dangerous cloud of ammonia over a town but when police tried to notify the public to evacuate via “local” radio stations it found that no one answered the phones at six of the local stations for over an hour – all owned by Clear Channel Communications broadcasting from a single location over 1600 miles away. 300 people were hospitalized.

In summary, I hope that Senator Cornyn starts walking the walk and not just talking the talk. To quote Mr. Cornyn himself “We are all safer and our liberty more secure whenever Washington adopts more of that (government openness).” I couldn’t agree more. The need for secrecy and increased security go hand in hand by those claiming that our safety is at risk and that only they can secure it. As President Kennedy said “…an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meanings to the very limits of official censorships and concealment.”

Harper’s Magazine columnist, Scott Horton, said it best. “Secrecy is not invoked to protect military or legitimate state security confidences. It is invoked for nakedly political reasons, or darker and still more likely, to obscure crimes and avoid the creation of court records which would document them.”

Senator Cornyn said in his article “I will be watching closely to make certain they comply.” So, is this sincerity or just more Washington hypocrisy? Well, Mr. Cornyn, I applaud you, and I will be watching you as well.

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A graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo with an MBA in 1980, John went into the banking business from 1981-1991. John went into the gymnastics business with his wife, with whom he has two children, in 1992 and grew it enough (more...)

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