Saturday, June 12, 2010

Musings: On Loyalty and Fear

A night of rain made it clear that clouds would obscure any pre-dawn view of Comet C/2009 R1 McNaught but it also freshened up the landscape that Koko and I walked through this quiet new moon morning.

The sky was already shot through with pink that was rapidly retreating, leaving white in its place, and soon I could see the rays of the sun, which was already buried in piles of gray, shining down like a shimmery silver curtain upon the land, causing raindrops on leaves to sparkle and the Haupu range to glow in a distinctive way that I have been unable to describe in words.

Words are powerful, which is why there’s so often an attempt to control them, especially by governments and employers. It’s a topic that’s been at the forefront of my mind ever since I got the ax from MidWeek for criticizing the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which is actually a separate company, although both have the same owner.

Then yesterday I happened to tune in to a segment on Democracy Now! about the BP oil spew in the Gulf. The company required fishermen hired to help with the clean up to sign a contract that made talking to the press grounds for termination. Host Amy Goodman caught up with one of the fishermen who signed because he needed the work:

AMY GOODMAN: So why are you talking to me?

GLENN SWIFT: I don’t feel it’s the right thing to shut somebody up, you know, just because you’re working for them. We’re supposed to live in the United States, and we’re supposed to have freedom of speech.

The company later amended the contract to remove the ban, but Amy said many fishermen were still terrified to talk to them, even though they had important things to share, like they hadn’t been allowed to wear masks during the clean up because BP feared it would make the situation look as dangerous as it is. There already have been reports of trained workers wearing protective gear getting sick. So how do you suppose the fishermen with no gear, and a fear of speaking up, are faring?

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is hunting for Julian Assang, founder of Wikileaks, which I imagine is causing him a bit of fear. For its part, the Pentagon fears that Assang plans to publish some 260,000 classified State Department cables dealing with American diplomatic and intelligence efforts in the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The State Department claims their publication would pose a security threat. But would it be to our nation, or to those making billions off the death and destruction?

The cables reportedly were leaked by 22-year-old Army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning of Potomac, Maryland. Manning, now in custody in Kuwait, is allegedly the same man who gave Wikileaks the controversial video that showed a U.S. military helicopter gunning down unarmed men and firing on a vehicle with children.

He’s likely to not only lose his job, but spend time in prison — a price he apparently is willing to pay because he felt the information he was privy to needed to be made public. I applaud him and Assang and Glenn Swift and all the others who chose not be to silenced by fear.

In following the discussion about my firing on Ian Lind’s blog, I was struck by a comment from Mike Middlesworth, former managing editor of The Advertiser:

We all expect public loyalty from people who take our money.

While I understand and have practiced the concept of company loyalty, I was intrigued by the flip side to that comment. It seems we consumers and taxpayers should also expect loyalty from the corporations and governments that take our money; in other words, to not poison our land and water, make us sick, sell us out, rip us off, kill us.

Or perhaps we're only supposed to expect them to make public displays of loyalty, through their PR and election campaigns, while behind closed doors they're free to make their deals to stick it to us.

More likely, given the climate of fear that the government and corporations has created for the citizenry, we're not expected to have any expectations or complaints at all. And if we do, we're not to publicly voice them.


Andrew Cooper said...

It sometimes is a complex issue when our private rights conflict with our employer's aims and desires.

I generally consider employment a voluntary arrangement, allowing the employer to make some otherwise invasive demands upon you. Drug testing? Dress code? Haircut? I acquiesce on these issues as conditions for my employment. If you don't agree, find another job.

I have faced these same decisions in writing Darker View, I do often blog about working on the mountain. Generally these articles have been met favorably by management. But I have been asked to pull a post, and after discussion I did pull it. It was within my employer's purview to request this as the information and photos were obtained during the course of my employment.

But is employment a voluntary when the company paying you has destroyed your usual opportunities to make a living? When they represent the only employment available?

Is the employer doing something that is illegal, or at least morally reprehensible?
Things get a little murkier under these conditions, our right to free speech may trump the employer relationship.

Anonymous said...

If people are getting sick from cleaning up the toxic mess, then it would be good to know and spread the word. But this would be bad for PR and stock values.

The fish and shell fish if they survive will be polluted for many generations as well as the people who eat them, breathe the air and have skin exposure to the chemicals

Ed Coll said...

I contribute and have follow Wikileaks for a few years now and noted that 500,000 people saw the video 48 hours before the NYT or DN even saw it on the radar screen. Given the retribution against journalist like Joan this is the emerging new journalism "Unlike many other anonymizing networks, I2P doesn't try to provide anonymity by hiding the originator of some communication and not the recipient, or the other way around. I2P is designed to allow peers using I2P to communicate with each other anonymously — both sender and recipient are unidentifiable to each other as well as to third parties." Anyone who thinks taking out Julian Assange or extracting information from him using rubber-hose cryptanalysis doesn't understand I2P makes such info extraction impossible. Assange may be "the face" of Wikileaks but but the individuals who compose the network are protected by how the network is designed.