January 20, 2022

Democracy Demands Transparency

“If complete and instantaneous disclosure proves impossible politically, the United States should return to a government with powers so limited that it need not be constantly audited, watched, or dreaded.” ~ Robert E. Wright

Have you noticed that many Democrats today are not particularly democratic? Oh, they want everyone, and then some, to vote, but that is where their conception of democracy seems to end. President Biden wants to tamp down on conspiracy theories, but this more by surveilling the public than making the government transparent and accountable.

The banner of one of the party’s leading newspapers, the Washington Post, has asserted that since 2017 that “democracy dies in darkness.” But another of its rags, the New York Times, delayed a story about the Kenosha riots thought troublesome for Democratic Party candidates until after the 2020 election. 

What are they going to write when secessionist movements pick up even more momentum? According to a 2018 Rasmussen study, almost two-in-five Democrats thought civil war was likely within the next five years, i.e., by 2023. That was partly due to hatred/distrust of then-president Donald Trump but also an indication that Democrats are more likely to try to use force to keep a disintegrating nation together. Their paternalistic view of the world compels them to reject federalism in favor of centralized power. You’ll own nothing and accept novel medical treatments and like it, or else.

The key to preventing the further disintegration of our governance is access to information, not voting per se. Some people proudly don “I Voted” stickers and buttons. That’s swell, but why did those folks vote as they did? How can Americans discern who to vote for if they do not know who made which decisions, when they made them, and on what basis? Such information has become extremely difficult to obtain without the help of costly lawsuits, like one in Missouri that recently revealed that lawmakers had unconstitutionally ceded power to unelected government administrators.

Similarly, the Fifth Circuit federal court reviewing the Biden-OSHA workplace Covid vaccination mandate could not be cancelled or shouted down, so it easily demolished all the pretexts for the mandate. If the mandated medical treatment (which can be called a “vaccine” only because of a change in the CDC’s definition of that term) is effective, then the only people at risk are the unvaccinated. If it is ineffective, then on what basis can it be mandated? If an emergency truly exists, why wasn’t the mandate put in place earlier and why did it not include small companies? How dangerous is Covid-19 for working people anyway? OSHA could not answer such questions, revealing the vacuity of the mandate.

Even after the court stayed implementation, however, Biden urged companies to comply anyway. Say what? That is not how the rule of law works. Again, it seems that Americans all need to contact a judge or governor to protect themselves from charges of misprision of felony, if not misprision of treason.

Does the Biden administration have pertinent information that it is not disclosing? Or is it covering something up? We may never know, at least those of us in middle age or older, as the FDA wants 55 years to process Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests related to its Covid policies. That is not a typo! Nobody involved in this colossal Covid cluster wants to take the blame, and the only way to protect themselves from the flood of FOIA that I predicted last year is to stall, hem and haw, and obfuscate. Then stall some more. 

How can Americans allow politicians to spend their money with almost no accountability or transparency? Details of the contracts between the government and major Covid “vaccine” manufacturers, unless leaked earlier, will be unavailable for at least five years. (Canadians and other alleged democrats face similar restrictions.) According to private sector auditors, the Pentagon cannot account for trillions of dollars. Americans will never know the details of that fraud because auditors could not finish their work due to the government’s “many bookkeeping deficiencies, irregularities, and errors.”

Similarly, manipulation of the FOIA request system stymies the investigation of past government mistakes at a wide range of bureaucracies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which has long been infamous for its arbitrary decision-making processes. 

While with help from another business historian I was able to use FOIA to obtain the information necessary to expose the SEC’s role in creating the conditions at the credit rating agencies that made virtually inevitable the global financial crisis of 2007-9, I cannot be certain that we found everything relevant to the SEC’s flawed decision-making process. The FOIA system was so slow and onerous that it appeared deliberately designed to dissuade researchers from investigating the SEC’s past.

Nevertheless, we wanted next to look at changes in the SEC’s so-called Town Hall Rule regarding stockholders’ right to use management proxy materials to submit proposals to fellow stockholders. After reviewing the extant secondary literature, which is thin and repetitive because it is based solely on the same few publicly-available sources, we decided to press on with an in-depth analysis. This time, though, our fee waiver request was denied on nonsense grounds and our information request was subjected to repeated demands for more specific information.

The demand for more specific information, though, presented us with a Catch-22 or chicken and egg problem. The SEC does not provide researchers with a finding aid, a document routinely created by archival staff to guide researchers to potentially relevant documents. (For an example of a simple one that I helped to create, see here.) Without a finding aid, researchers like me have no idea whether the documents they would like to see even exist, much less the details about them that the SEC’s FOIA request officers purport to need to see. See? FOIA reveals the government at its most inefficient, or systematically corrupt.

All extant historical information related to the U.S. federal government should be saved, catalogued, and/or made text searchable via the National Archives and Records Administration so that researchers can assess previous government actions and decisions lest the government, and nation, fall (again) into the trap of repeating past mistakes. Obviously, the subjects of researcher-led probes should not be in charge of the process of determining which documents are saved and/or made available to researchers. One would think government agencies would relish the opportunity of outside review to help burnish their reputations. Their mistakes are mostly those of administration, not (usually anyway) crimes against humanity. Yet, they jealously guard their turf from outside auditors and other researchers.

Given all that, I would like to take transparency and outside review one step further. People truly committed to the substance of democracy, instead of the charade of voting based on labels, or animal mascots, or vague slogans (ever notice how Make America Great Again and Build Back Better can seem to mean the same thing?), should insist on much greater levels of transparency.

Because the capture of FOIA proves that governments can bureaucratize and render ineffective any citizen information request system, it is high time that democrats begin to insist on the instantaneous release of all government information related to all domestic matters: video recordings of meetings, emails, letters, Slack or text messages, and other forms of electronic or personal communication between government officials, elected and bureaucratic, and between said officials and U.S. residents, including candidates for elected office. The federal government surveils millions of American citizens, so why cannot citizens compel the government to surveil itself, or at least make public all but the most sensitive of its own activities?

Advances in data mining aided by artificial intelligence will allow watchdogs to parse through all that data to expose inefficient, corrupt, or just plain dumb governance in real time. (Maybe they will even find specific instances where government programs work well.) Journalists and “fact checkers” will have access to primary sources of verified authenticity that they can link to to (dis)prove claims of “misinformation.” Then Americans can all vote with the aid of a full, impartial, verifiable analysis about who and what they are voting for, or against.

If complete and instantaneous disclosure proves impossible politically, the United States should return to a government with powers so limited that it need not be constantly audited, watched, or dreaded.

This article, Democracy Demands Transparency, was originally published by the American Institute for Economic Research and appears here with permission. Please support their efforts.