I often sit next to the Russian Tass reporter in the White House press briefing room. Lately I've seen my Russian colleague smiling and shaking his head a lot. I often ask him why he's smiling. He frequently comments on how little information the press is given in both countries. His country's leadership can spin and mislead as well as mine. He marvels at the similarity between the Kremlin and the White House. The Russians did, however, have one brief shining moment.
In 1985, then Soviet Party Chief Mikhail Gorbachev began a revolution toward Democracy. He called it ''Glasnost'' which in Russia means ''openness.'' He began his quest of Glasnost in the hope that pressure would build on people in his party to support economic restructuring, which he called Perestroika. Archives opened up, the press wrote the truth about Stalin, privileges of the ruling class were exposed and people began to have a positive feeling about the government.
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The Bush government doesn't speak Russian when it comes to Glasnost. The administration's appetite for secrecy would rival that of any Russian leader. The only problem is they are governing America, not Russia. Openness and transparency are founding principles of our nation. Now even congressional Republicans have added their voices to the chorus of congressional discontent – a chorus that up until now was mostly made up of Democrats. They want openness and honesty (as in honor) restored to the White House. According to Congress Daily, this week House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis and Energy Subcommittee Chair Darrell Issa, (both Republicans), accused the Interior Department of giving oil companies a multi-billion dollar windfall by erasing provisions from offshore drilling contracts. Davis and Issa want the e-mails and documents to clear up who did this. But so far ''mums the word'' from the Department of the Interior – color me surprised.
Another Republican, Sen. Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, went after his own party's administration for keeping Intelligence Committee reports on Iraq classified just ''cause.'' Roberts says the reports, ''better informs the public, but that does not, I repeat, does not jeopardize intelligence methods.'' He went on to say that his committee would stand for nothing less than the declassification of this material and he added, ''Neither will the American people.''
This week's cloaking of the real truth did not limit itself to hiding information about Iraq or making oil companies richer. The Bush administration even went so far as to as stonewall a Commerce Department report on the overseas loss of jobs to the American worker. It released a 12-page summary last September, but as National Journal reported, Tennessee Democratic Rep., Bart Gordon, found that the summary had ''downplayed the significance of off-shoring'' among a host of other omissions he found by comparing the final report with the summary. It had taken Gordon almost a year to get his hands on the final report. If the Bush administration was responsible for writing Cliff Notes, ''The Jungle,'' by Upton Sinclair, would have been a nice story about a family-owned meat packing plant.
Speaking of classics, Americans are starting to feel like it's the year 1984. An innocent trip to the library yields an electronic trail for Big Brother to track and retain. Now Big Brother doesn't even want us to know how the computer matter we read in a library can be tracked. This week Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sided with four Connecticut librarians when she ordered a lower court to fully disclose FBI records concerning the FBI's tracking of a library user who might be using a computer during a certain 45 minute period in 2005. Remember the Mad Magazine cartoons of the spy sitting on the back bumper of a Soviet car with a listening device? This is hardly different.
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Finishing off the week was the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication's resolution condemning the ''anti-press'' policies taken by the Bush administration. The Association resolution asks the Bush administration to stop the control of information. Their concerns include reclassification of documents and the intimidation of journalists.
So does the Bush administration sound like the old Soviets? Or even the new Russia? Maybe Bush and Putin really did have that understanding when President Bush looked into Putin's eyes – they both understand secrecy. But President Bush is still accountable to the American people and they are saying in one voice, the time is now – Glasnost for us too.