The common problem not confronted but lying behind many of the biggest crises plagueing America these days is secret government, yet instead of addressing this fundamental issue, Congress and the media are just nibbling around the edges.

Take torture. The Bush administration is committed to the concept that if you want to fight wars and terrorists, you need to torture people when you capture them.

A fondness for torture is a kind of sickness, and it's a long discredited tactic that tough-minded but far smarter people than Bush and Cheney long ago realized was counterproductive, because tortured people just say what their tormentors want to hear, in order to get the torture to stop, leading to mistakes, wrong detours, and worse.

But the real problem with torture is that it's illegal, both in the U.S. and internationally, and yet the government, and particularly our president and vice president still think it is acceptable policy.

The same thing can be said about CIA subversion. The U.S. has been busy fomenting coups in Venezuela and Haiti, and is probably hard at work preparing another one in Bolivia pending the outcome of the election there which is likely to put another Chavista in power in South America. That's illegal, but the government is doing it anyhow.

The illegalities, particularly in this administration, are really too numerous to enumerate, including the "disappearing" of many legal immigrants picked up by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the arrest without trial of American citizens, the establishment of secret prison gulags in nations around the globe--with or without their own governments' knowledge and permission--the use of outlawed weapons in wars that have been entered into without Congressional approval, the attacking of targets in nations with whom we are not even at war, the kidnapping of people in other countries by U.S. intelligence agents, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

And how about that $40-billion secret budget for spy agencies, about which we know nothing (even the budget total itself is known only because of a slip of the tongue), and over which we have no control at all? That represents an amount larger than most departments of the federal government.

Now, wasn't this supposed to be a democracy that we have here in America?

Whether or not we agree with the hard-assed policies of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld junta, shouldn't we all, as American citizens, and as members of the elected Congress of the United States, be both outraged and terrified at the secret actions and policies being conducted by our government?

The very notion of a free and democratic society is facing serious threat today because we have a government that feels free to act in secret, and a people and a Congress that just ignore what is being done secretly in our name...and all to often to us.

Unless we demand an end to all this secrecy, the American experiment will soon end in disaster.

Benjamin Franklin had it right:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."