You don't need to know

By Charles Bloomer
web posted March 13, 2000

President Bill Clinton is lobbying hard to get Congress to move rapidly and approve permanent normal trade relations with China. The White House has sent legislation to Congress that would eliminate the annual review of China's trade relationship with the US and pave the way for China's entry to the World Trade Organization. According to various news reports, the legislation has the support of 60 senators, enough to overcome a filibuster by the opposition. Support in the House is less certain, where the measure may not be able to muster a simple majority.

This push to grant normal trade status to China is accompanied by some incredible arrogance. The detailed provisions of this trade deal, struck last November with China, are being withheld from the American public. The administration has provided "summaries" – more likely propaganda – for public consumption. Only certain lawmakers, senior staff, and others with special security clearances are allowed to review the document containing the details of the trade deal. Those who do have access are prohibited from making copies or discussing the contents of the trade deal. Even Congressmen do not have full access to the national security and intelligence provisions of the deal.

One of our most important foreign policy decisions, a decision that rewards a hostile Communist government that has recently threatened the US with long range missile strikes, will be made while arrogantly keeping the American public in the dark.

When pressed by Senator Trent Lott about the secrecy surrounding the trade deal during a recent hearing, US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky haughtily stated that Congress had all the information it should need.

The unnecessary secrecy surrounding the details of the trade deal is reminiscent of Hillary Clinton's secret health care meetings, the administration's insistence on various forms of executive privilege, and the numerous occasions on which the Clinton White House has withheld information from various investigative bodies.

There is a place for secrecy in government dealings. Legitimate national security concerns require secrecy. The military uses security classifications to prevent sensitive information from falling into the hands of the enemy. Sensitivity to another nation's legitimate concerns during treaty negotiations may also justify some level of secrecy. However, secrecy designed to withhold from public scrutiny those aspects of a trade deal that may be embarrassing to the administration or unacceptable to the public is absolutely unacceptable in a democracy.

What an arrogant, condescending administration is telling the Americanpeople is this: You don't need to know what the details are in this trade deal. We will determine what you need to know. We will filter out all the controversial, unpleasant items. You should just believe us because we know what is best for the country. You just need to trust us.

What exactly is in this trade deal that President Clinton doesn't want us to know about? Does it involve national security? What exactly is there about a trade deal that could conceivably concern our national security? Why are there "intelligence" provisions in this trade deal? Why doesn't the administration trust the public with full disclosure? Does the administration think that the American people are too stupid to understand?

If this legislation is so important, the full details of the trade deal should be released to the public. If the trade deal offers the US a chance to enjoy the sweeping benefits of more open trade, then the public should be appraised of those benefits. The American public should also be fully informed of any potential down-side to this agreement. Before we encourage our elected representatives in Congress to support this measure, we should be able to review all the provisions of the deal.

Congress should refuse to consider any legislation changing the trade status of China until the administration releases the full details of the trade agreement and allows sufficient time for serious, open public debate on the merits of the deal. No congressman, no senator should be willing to vote for legislation that is shrouded in unnecessary secrecy.

President Lincoln reminded us that we have a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people". A government of, by, and for the people requires open, full disclosure of policies and legislation, and encourages vigorous debate about the issues that affect the people. Only an arrogant, corrupt government needs to hide its actions from the public eye.

Mr. President, we do need to know. We, the People, have a right to know. And no, Mr. President, we do not trust you.

© 2000 by Charles Bloomer. Mr. Bloomer can be contacted at

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