Friday, September 29, 2006

It's a curious world

It's a curious world we live in (I've got Devo playing in my head, now). Sometimes 2 issues crop up on the national scene that converge around similar ideas. The mashing up of these concepts is ripe, yet one rarely sees anyone from the media dare to pick at it's tree. It's harvest time, here, however and I present to you exhibit one from today's Seattle Times report on the HP execs testifying before Congress regarding their company's unethical, if not illegal, investigations into it's own employees in the boardroom. It does need to be noted that this would not be an issue if they were investigating employees of such lower statures...Henry Ford used to do that all of the time as have many employers whether looking into the private lives of employees, their health habits, their drug usage - America is ripe with this type of intrusion, but the fact that it has come to digital data of boardroom members is really too much for capitalism to take. Hence, reactions from outraged members of Congress such as these:

"As I reviewed all of the documents for this hearing today, I felt like I was looking at a proposal for a made-for-TV movie," announced Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., at the start of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing into HP's use of "pretexting" to get phone records.

On the contrary, said Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., HP's wrongdoing "unfolded like the plot of a third-rate detective novel."

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., had a different take: "Calling the folks who did or allowed or participated in this Keystone Kops is an insult of the grossest sort to the original Keystone Kops."

Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., took Dingell's objection into account. "The evidence we've seen shows that this investigation is part 'Keystone Kops,' it's part 'Mission: Impossible,' and perhaps part of 'All the President's Men' all tied together," he proposed.

Perhaps, but it put Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., in mind of "Hogan's Heroes." "HP may be suffering from Sgt. Schultz syndrome," he diagnosed, referring to the rotund concentration-camp guard remembered for the refrain "I know no-thing!"

...Or, as Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, put it: "Pretexting is pretending to be somebody you're not to get something you probably shouldn't have to use in a way that's probably wrong."

..."Unacceptable," said Rep. Edward Whitfield, R-Ky.

"Horribly offensive," added Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

"Gross stupidity," submitted Dingell.

"Mr. Chair," observed Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, "we're all disturbed in our own unique way."

That last bit is a particularly good one to end on. Because it certainly is unique when people such as Misters Walden, Whitfield, Barton, and Stearns get on their high horse about a private company engaging in warrantless espionage, shifting through call records, and attempted email tracking when they do not do the same when it comes to their government operations. Keep in mind, I think both are wrong. However, the above named representatives all voted to allow - retroactively - just such activities by the U.S. government. Even former HP Board Chairwoman Patricia Dunn hinted at this fact:
"Based on my experience," Dunn suggested, "I hope that Congress will help companies like HP ... by establishing bright-line laws in this area."
What could she possibly mean by that? I mean, she didn't know that it would be unethical to obtain the phone records of fellow board members and top company brass? It wasn't clear to her that such actions might be illegal and, if not, unethical?!? Or perhaps she just wants Congress to provide her and others with the same powers that it has provided the U.S. government and it's contractors? Then again, maybe I'm too cynical and she needs Bush's ethics coach to come and give her a refresher course.

The Congressional representatives yesterday were grandstanding for the cameras. They did this because the business community is outraged that this sort of thing happened to Board members. As the outrage spread through the editorial pages and business blogs, Representatives felt moved to show that they could do something and that this behavior is not to be tolerated and that the American corporate landscape would not be rocked by yet another corporate scandal. The funny thing was that for all of the blustering and hot air that was released in that hearing room, the panel of Representatives had done something - 5 months earlier.
The lawmakers were united in wondering why a bill making pretexting illegal, which the committee passed unanimously five months ago, still hasn't been taken up by the full House.

"It isn't just a leadership failure at HP; there's been a leadership failure in the GOP," added Inslee, the other author. "HP leadership may look back up here to GOP leadership and say: How come you're not moving this bill?' "
Inslee's scoring political points and it's hard to say if the Democrats would have been more efficient, but he's right. The fact is that some members of this panel that were no expressing outrage at HP were unenable to get their do nothing leadership to bring their bipartisan supported bill to the floor. Would that have prevented HP's execs or the later scandal? Probably not, but we'll never know now and frankly, it shouldn't matter because they should have known better in the first place.

The representatives who voted in favor of the warrantless wiretaps should have known better as well. Still they saw fit to pass a bill that undermines the basic civil rights of all of us. Bypassing the measures that already existed, allowing for wiretaps to seek court warrants within 48 hours, they continue to erode the rights upon which this country was founded all in a cynical attempt to win an election at home. Faced with a botched war, a botched hurricane relief effort, and an eroding of America's esteem in the world of public opinion not seen since Vietnam and perhaps much more harmful, the Republicans from the do-nothing Congress grasped at stealing our civil liberties as a platform for re-election this year. None of the members on the committee yesterday saw the irony in their expressed outrage.

What to do? Perhaps HP's Dunn offered up the solution. Proving that the private sector in some cases can act faster that the public, she offered up this:

Dunn noted she was advised by "batteries of experts" that the methods used to obtain the telephone records were legal, prompting Walden to retort that those experts were now looking for work.

"I'm one of them," Dunn said to laughter in the room.

In the public sector we have to wait for elections. I put it to you that Representatives who voted for warrantless wiretaps, repeals of habeas corpus, and torture should receive the same treatment that Dunn got from her boardroom. It's over a month away, but government can still catch up to the private sector and begin to make this right - hopefully.

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