Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Whistle Blowing, American Style

"You know how to whistle, don't you?
You just put your lips together and blow."
Lauran Bacall to Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not

Whistleblowing may sometimes be illegal, but it is not always immoral. With that in mind, and in the wake of the whistleblowing episode over the CIA's secret prisons, I thought it would be a good time to talk a little more about moral agency and righteousness in an era of corruption. To do so, let's get away from the King and his courtiers within the beltway, and take a short look at the extraordinary courage of average workers in the face of an increasingly oppressive government in the hands of Republican-party operatives. Did you know, for example, that 1 in 14 government workers has been harassed for reporting waste, fraud or other improprieties?

Part I: The Corruption
"According to government surveys taken since 1992, one in fourteen federal employees reported being retaliated against in the previous two years for making disclosures concerning health and safety dangers, unlawful behavior, and/or fraud, waste, and abuse. Other surveys suggest that many public employees simply do not report problems because they think efforts to expose the problems will not lead to improvements." [PEER]

While much whistleblowing may deal with accounting and fraud, there are perhaps graver matters to contend with. The non-partisan Project On Government on Government Oversight reports that:
Security guards at only one of four nuclear power plants are confident their plant could defeat a terrorist attack, according to interviews conducted by POGO for this report. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates the utilities operating nuclear power plants. The utilities generally subcontract with private guard companies for security services. The security guards say morale is currently very low and that they are under-manned, under-equipped, under-trained, and underpaid." POGO Report
Or read this, about non-disclosure agreements at DHS:
"Security guards at the Department of Homeland Security were forced last month to sign agreements not to disclose information the agency deems sensitive — an attempt, according to several current guards, to silence them after recent high-profile revelations of security breaches at DHS. The guards, employed by Wackenhut Services Inc., were told to sign pledges, called “non-disclosure agreements,” on March 10, the day after former guard Derrick Daniels appeared on NBC Nightly News alleging security lapses at the agency’s Nebraska Ave. complex headquarters in Washington, D.C. The timing raises questions about whether DHS and Wackenhut misused the agreements and ignored whistleblower protections in an effort to prevent the guards from disclosing additional information about security lapses at DHS headquarters. According to one guard, Wackenhut supervisors threatened to fire employees who did not sign the non-disclosure agreements. Wackenhut recently lost out on bidding for a new security contract at DHS to Virginia-based Paragon Systems LLC. Nevertheless, Wackenhut guards will continue to provide security at DHS headquarters for the next few months, according to a department spokesman."[Pogo blog]

Part II: The Takeover
While some folks may see all of the above as simply further indication that our government is a wasteful organism, something much more sinister is afoot. As the previous quote illustrates, the government is demanding silence and is taking advantage of the legal no-man's land between the government and its contractors to ensure that whistleblowing and non-favorable publicity remain low-level and low-intensity. More disturbing than that, the Republican propaganda machine is imposing its media model on low-level employees, doing things like distributing "new 'talking points' ...to all park superintendents to urge them to begin 'honest and forthright' discussions with the public about smaller budgets, reduced visitor services and increased fees" [Secret Plan].

Read Chris Mooney's blog and you can see a litany of political agendas superimposed upon the science community. It is very disturbing and represents yet more evidence that the Republican model is being carried further and further down the ladder of government. It is not just Brownie that Americans need to worry about, it is about the institutionalization of the Republican model. The model that has, in effect, seized control of our media during the last 15 years or so is now re-shaping our government in its image: the CIA under Goss, the federal judiciary, the Supreme Court, mid-level administrators in DOI, DHS, State and many other agencies. The list is long, and, make no mistake, while many of these people will be hard-workin career people, many others are politically motivated. Glenn Greenwald, in a diary about his new book How Would a Patriot Act?, reiterates how the Bush administration has used every tool in the book to push its takeover agenda:

A substantial portion of the book is devoted to highlighting the ways in which the administration has used rank fear-mongering and an endless exploitation of the terrorist threat to attempt to obscure and justify these abuses. Those manipulative tactics have not only enabled them to embrace these most un-American powers right out in the open, but they are also threatening to alter, perhaps irreversibly, our national character.

Perhaps most importantly, the book documents the fact that even when all other intended checks on government excesses fail -- when the media, the Congress and the courts are co-opted or are otherwise neutralized -- Americans always have the ability, inherent in our system of government, to put a stop to abuses and excesses, provided they choose to exercise that power. But to do so, it is necessary that it first be understood just how radical and dangerous our government has become under this administration, and making the case that we have arrived at exactly that point is the primary purpose of the book.[Pre-order the book here.]

Part III: Fables of the Reconstruction
When Abraham Lincoln died, so died the real reconstruction of the South. Democrats, during the latter portion of the 19th-century, were able to design government bodies that reinforced the racist social model the white Elites desired. Racism, once institutionalized in the form of slavery, was now an oppressive pseudo-democratic model that would remain at least until the 1960's and which still has serious repercussions today. Of course, as I discuss here, it is the Republican Party that now carries the racist banner with surreptitious (and overt) pride.

So, indeed, what is a Patriot to do? Now what?

The Democrats must plan for their own version of a Reconstruction period. They must rebuild the government in the form that is democratic (not necessarily Democrat). To do so, they will have to, to the extent possible, separate the career civil servant from the career party operative. This will demand tearing down government agencies, renaming them, giving them a new mission. Think DHS, but done right.

I don't know to what extent the people now positioning themselves for president have thought about this, but I hope there are some think tanks out there discussing this, for "our" government (not democrat, not republican) will not be truly ours until there is some sort of purge. Democrats must not be afraid of this, they must not "forgive and forget." What is happening is far too pervasive and far too dangerous for that. Let's hope that someone is making plans.

[Updated to include G. Greenwald posting, which you should go read to see some of the AMAZING right-wing comments. Quite hilarious.]