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Fight for your free rights Standing up for openness in a diverse society is crucial at a time of restrictions

News Washington Bureau chief Douglas Turner elicited an unintentionally ironic comment from a person at Accent Stripe in Orchard Park the other day. Asked why the highway marking device-maker paid for four jet trips for Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, the woman said: "You know what? It's none of your business."

No doubt a good number of people reading that retort responded with a reactionary "bravo." Therein lies a problem.

People who know better still feel intruded upon. Telemarketers, the 2 4/7 media, unknown e-mailers, snail-mail junk and a host of other entities seem dedicated to separating them from either their privacy or their money. So they react.

In the case above, it absolutely is the public's business, through the proxy of a reporter, to know almost everything about a publicly paid congressman's travel habits. Why did this company fly Reynolds hither and yon? In return for anything? How might he remember the flights in the future?

There's nothing remotely illegal here -- so why hide? -- but the woman's reaction is symptomatic of our times, times in which the Bush administration seems determined to keep information from Americans that every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower agreed should be public.

Advocates of open government dubbed this "Sunshine Week," as part of an effort to keep the flow of information from governments and businesses to taxpayers and consumers as open as possible. News National Correspondent Jerry Zremski goes into this in greater detail in his cover story today.

Maintaining democracy's underpinnings in an era of terrorism is not easy. There are scary rumblings from 9/1 1 that American society is too open, that it was too easy for the hijackers to get here, move about, train and ultimately execute their hideous plot. No one wants to see the next one succeed.

But should that mean documents made public decades ago get reclassified, as the Bush administration did? Should all Americans live in fear that National Security Agency computers monitor their private conversations with someone abroad? Should the vice president be permitted to keep secret the cast of a meeting about public energy policy? Should a Colorado high school teacher seeking to help his students, so programmed and numbed by groupspeak, see the world a little differently fear for his job for criticizing Bush and America?

These are simply abstract questions, until your life is affected. When your life is affected, wouldn't you rather feel confident your right to know is alive and present? Who is your accuser? What's your heart surgeon's death rate? Why were you charged an exorbitant amount for a repair? Does the person teaching your kindergartner have a criminal record? Does the coach of your daughter's volleyball team abuse drugs? Why did your insurance company cancel your policy?

Across from this editorial is a page of letters. Many of them -- by this newspaper's long-standing policy most of them -- criticize stands this paper takes. Do we like criticism, any more than the Bush administration? Probably not. But we don't reject dissent or shut out points of view simply because they disagree with us. Letters also criticize government, the president, Congress, hospitals, police and others who collectively rule our lives. This community forum airs opinion. We set aside that much space -- and space in other sections of the paper -- so readers know more about this community's diverse voices.

That's how America works best, with the warm sunshine of open, free-flowing information shining on us all.

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