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Image 7 of The Advocate Messenger March 18, 2012

Part of The Advocate Messenger

SCOTT C. SCHURZ JR., President, Editor and Publisher JOHN A. NELSON, Executive Editor OPINION SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 2012 A7 THE ADVOCATE-MESSENGER LETTERS@AMNEWS.COM  |  WWW.AMNEWS.COM Public information needs interpretation and some context T he just-announced move by Encyclopaedia Britannica to end its print editions after 244 years of publishing came by happenstance in the middle of Sunshine Week, an annual campaign nationwide in support of freedom of information. e great general reference work for many generations will continue in digital form, like so much of the news, information, literature and art of our age. In that form, it will continue to provide the backGene Policinski ground and insight that, in the final 2010 edition, inContributing cludes articles by experts and practitioners as Columnist diverse as golfer Arnold Palmer on the Masters tournament, Nobel laureates on art and science, and former President Bill Clinton on the 1995 peace accords in Serbia and Bosnia. e Britannica announcement during Sunshine Week is an ironic reminder that although lists and piles of data are basic, it’s often context, interpretation and perspective that move reams of figures and findings into the realms of the informative and useful. A day or so before Britannica said it no longer wished to rule the print waves, the Society of Professional Journalists issued a Sunshine Week report on the difficulty journalists and others have in reaching government experts who can bring a story or a meaning to information that's “available” but requires analysis to be understood. e surveyed journalists — about 170 working in the Washington, D.C., area — said barriers to reaching experts on the public payroll include having to get pre-approval from public affairs officers to talk to other federal staffers, having those officers decide which experts are available, and having an inhibiting or obstructive “monitor” present during an interview. Not to mention outright stonewalling on sensitive issues. About 85 percent of the journalists who responded to the SPJ survey agreed that “e public is not getting the information it needs because of barriers agencies are imposing.” Granted, it may well be that a process is needed both to direct inquiries to the right place and to prevent scientists and other experts from being overwhelmed when their particular bit or byte of data draws public interest. A simple online directory of government staffers and their areas of focus or knowledge would be a good place to start. Of course, there’s always the possibility that experts will disagree, or depart from the political line or message being crafted by an elected official. But that’s what the marketplace of ideas — the fundamental principle on which a self-governing society depends — is all about: differing voices, some opposed on issues or facts, doing verbal battle in the public square. Our nation’s Founders embraced that idea, believing that, in the end, truth would emerge. Facts without accountable, identifiable expertise behind them leave us exposed to entities like Wikipedia — a noble idea of selfcorrecting data, but one that can degenerate into ping-pong matches of back-and-forth edits. In some ways, that’s freedom of information — with a strong dose of “receivers beware.” When it comes to information collected, collated and kept by our vast state and federal government agencies, however, citizens deserve something more: information and explanation they can rely on, and help in understanding it all. We deserve access to information rooted in a process that operates speedily and with transparency — without public relations nannies. Facts may speak for themselves, but when it comes to public facts, so should the people who are on the public payroll to assemble, assess and explain them. Gene Policinski is senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center, 1207 18th Ave. S., Nashville, Tenn., 37212. Web: www.firstamendmentcenter.org. Email: gpolicinski@fac.org. In Section 60, home too soon W ASHINGTON — On a flawless spring-like morning, President Obama stood in the Rose Garden to urge against a hasty retreat from Afghanistan. “We have a strategy that will allow us to Dana Milbank responsibly wind Syndicated down this war,” he Columnist said Tuesday, resisting the calls for a quick exit that were prompted by the slaying of Afghan civilians by a rogue American soldier. “Already we’re scheduled to remove 23,000 troops by the end of this summer, following the 10,000 that we withdrew last year.” A few minutes after Obama spoke those words, I crossed the Potomac to visit with some of those who have already come home, under circumstances nobody wanted. After a decade of wars, more than 800 of them now rest in Arlington National Cemetery. Most of them are in Section 60, where I counted 21 rows of headstones of the Iraq and Afghanistan war dead, beginning with Staff Sgt. Brian Craig, killed in Kandahar in April 2002. On Tuesday afternoon, Section 60 got its newest resident, 23-year-old Sgt. William Stacey, killed on foot patrol during his fourth deployment to Afghanistan. ey buried him — near a young magnolia tree that will shade his headstone in future years — with the too-familiar rituals: white horses, wooden caisson, marching platoon, rifle volleys, taps. ere were the tearful parents, the griefstricken fiancee, the teenage sister holding flowers, and the cremated remains of a young man who left behind an open-in-case-of-death letter released by the family. “My death did not change the world; it may be tough for you to justify its meaning at all,” he wrote. “But there is a greater meaning to it.” Washington is debating that greater meaning, and whether all the trouble — the civilian killings, the Quran burnings, the feckless Karzai government — justifies continued fighting in Afghanistan even though al-Qaeda has been routed and public opinion has soured. ere’s no good answer, but no policymaker should make a decision about the war without taking a stroll through Section 60. Its rows tell the story of this generation’s wars: A few headstones from Afghanistan quickly yield to monuments mostly from Iraq; then, toward the end, the Afghanistan dead return. Among stones topped by crosses, Stars of David and the occasional crescent, a makeshift shrine has been built by friends and family of the fallen. A helium balloon with the number “30” floated above the tombstone of omas J. Brown, whose 30th birthday would have been Tuesday; he died in 2008 in Iraq, and his grave had a fresh arrangement of pink roses, yellow daisies and white gladioli, with a note: “Miss you. Love always, Mom.” Arlington authorities, perhaps recognizing the special significance of Section 60’s young dead, has compassionately exempted it from the policy against decorations. On Tuesday, there were purple Mardi Gras beads, crosses made from toothpicks, laminated photos, heart stickers, colored stones, pinwheels, plush toys, a can of chewing tobacco, a marathon medal, a plastic leprechaun hat, even a cat-shaped yard ornament. A prayer to Joan of Arc deco- rated the grave of a young woman killed in Iraq. On the stone of Sgt. Karl Campbell were a school photo of his son, missing a front tooth, and a letter in a plastic bag, to “my best friend always.” Among the most heartbreaking is the stone of Spc. Douglas Jay Green, killed in Afghanistan in August at age 23. A Valentine’s Day card had a quotation from Herman Hesse, “If I know what love is, it is because of you,” and a handwritten message: “Doug, is year you would have been home for Valentine’s Day. ... But I have to remind myself that ‘could haves’ and ‘would haves’ were never supposed to be.” Nearby, an older couple sat on fresh sod, grieving over a soldier buried too recently to have a headstone. ey stepped aside as the caisson approached with Sgt. Stacey’s remains. e young man, son of college professors, was to have returned to Camp Pendleton by now, his overseas deployments done. He was planning to attend a Marine Corps ball in April with his fiancee. Instead, she joined Stacey’s sister and parents in accepting folded flags from a sergeant major on bended knee. Among those paying their respects were several young Marines, one in a wheelchair. In the letter he wrote before he died, Stacey imagined an Afghan child made better by his service: “If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change this world, then I know that it was all worth it.” e nation must soon decide whether Stacey’s hope remains true. Dana Milbank’s email address is danamilbank@washpost.com. VOICE OF THE PEOPLE Graduation date needs to be changed Dear Editor, It has recently come to my attention that Boyle County High School and Danville High School will be having their graduations on the same day, and at the same time (May 19, 7 p.m.). is concerns me because I am sure many people (including myself ) in Boyle County have family that attends both school systems. I would hate to choose one over the other, and it would be a better decision overall, I believe, if one school system would change the date or even the time to allow the residents of Boyle County to attend both graduations. Changing the date or time would allow people to enjoy the once in a lifetime event for both sides. Zachary Weldon Parksville Your bill is coming due Dear Editor, Democrat, Republican or Independent, while dining at a local restaurant, you calculate your bill at $9.38. When asked to pay, you’re shocked: e tab is $26. Democrat, Republican or Independent, your water bill averages $93.80. ough this billing cycle covers the same number of days, your latest charges come in at $260. Democrat, Republican or Independent, at the grocery store, you’ve tallied everything in your cart. Staying within your budget, your cost should be $93.80. Checking out, you nearly suffer a heart attack. Your total? $260. Democrat, Republican or Inde- pendent, your electric bill was $938 last year. Without warning, even after having been told “new economies” would bring this year’s bills down, you’ve just learned they will exceed $2,600! And oh yes — Democrat, Republican or Independent, though your home is valued at $93,800 you’ve just received your property tax bill. Unbelievably, it’s based on a value of $260,000. Folks, 26 years in health care administration taught me one thing — costs are ALWAYS estimated far below what we eventually pay. And when government is involved, hold onto your wallet! is letter is really all about Obamacare. News this week reveals just why former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi commented that we needed to pass Health Care Reform so that we could “see what’s in it.” Truer words were never spoken. We’ve now learned from the most independent revenue source in Washington that the implementation cost of Obamacare — first estimated at $938 billion (video tapes of the presi- dent exist to prove this projection) have now come in at $2.6 trillion. See the relevance to the ratios above? None of us would tolerate the triple larceny or pain of the restaurant, water, electric or property tax examples above. Yet without a favorable Supreme Court decision this summer, ALL tax-paying Americans will be subjected to costs nearly three times those promised. Mad as Hell? Call your House and Senate members in Washington. Democrat, Republican or Independent — tell them we’re NOT going to take it anymore! Tom V. Ellis Danville Democrats help the rich, too Dear Editor, In response to Frank Durham: Yes, Republicans take care of the rich. And yes, close your eyes and ears now, the Democrats take care of the rich just as fast as they can as well. Who is kidding who? Does anyone honestly think either party does not take care of the rich? If anyone thinks Democrats are not helping the rich, your head is full of the muck they continually spew. ere is a difference between Republicans and Democrats, however. Republicans, with open arms and wallets and without reservation “give” more money to charity than Democrats. Democrats do not give “their” money away. Democrats wish to take or steal tax money from other wealthy people, deposit it in government bank accounts under a thick blanket of bureaucratic insanity and then dole it out based on who they think deserves it. Mitt Romney inherited family wealth. He gave all his inherited wealth away. Romney did not want unearned wealth. He went out in the real world and with hard work earned his wealth. Is anyone truly mad because Romney is wealthy? President Obama is certainly not the richest person in America. But he certainly is not poor and is worth several millions of dollars. Is anyone upset because President Obama is wealthy? In 2010, President Obama’s tax return showed charitable deductions at $245,075, (14 percent +/of earned income). Mitt Romney gave $2.9 million (also 14 percent +/- of earned income) in charitable deductions. Vice President Biden, $5,350 (1.4 percent), Gingrich, 2.9 percent. Santorum, 2.2 percent. Rush Limbaugh gave more than $200,000 to a number of folks in dire need of medical aid, including Alzheimers Care and children’s case management offices. Nancy Pelosi gave $41,000 to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art & SF Symphony. And Nancy’s family wealth is $92 million. Liberal Bill Maher gave $1 million greenbacks to a Democratic Superpac for President Obama’s re-election. I’m pretty sure that’s called the rich helping the rich. Don’t you? By the way, that funny man, Bill Maher ... he’s worth $13 million. Get off the Republicans only help the rich. It doesn’t wash, Mr. Durham. Les Jones Crab Orchard Mallard Fillmore Send your letters: Letters to the editor may be mailed to The Advocate-Messenger, 330 South Fourth Street, Danville, KY, 40422, faxed to (859) 236-9566, or sent by email to letters@amnews.com and should be kept to a maximum of 350 words. Letters must include the name, address and telephone number of the author for verification purposes.

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