The Age of Authoritarianism in America: Are We Losing Our Rights Without Noticing?
As news publications go, The Economist is not exactly what you'd call a supermarket tabloid. The London-based news magazine dates back to 1843. It's up there with the New Yorkers and Mother Joneses of the world as a credible journalistic operation.
So when The Economist downgrades the U.S. government from “full democracy” to “flawed democracy,” as they did in January 2018, it is reason to stand up and take notice. It’s an indicator authoritarianism is gaining a foothold. Two recent U.S. court decisions precisely underline that trend.
Imagine you’re stationed at a U.S. government facility in third-world territory far from the protection of American authorities, and conditions are reprehensible. This reality was exactly what operative James S. Pars — who is using a pseudonym to protect his identity — experienced in his recent assignment.
According to Pars' report, the conditions during his deployment were comparable to "a college dorm". The Cuban-American agent submitted his feedback from a CIA base in an undisclosed war zone that has only been described as "wracked by rocket attacks". The assignment ended prematurely when the agency brought Pars home after just three months in the field.
Pars’ recount of the conditions included detailed feedback about his peers — specifically, his superior officer — who he reports suffered from depression and who exhibited what can only be called poor leadership skills in her interactions with other CIA operatives. Pars’ examples include leaving the job for hours on end to bake, choosing favorites among employees and taking operatives on shopping trips while the base was on alert for an attack.
Despite Pars’ lawsuit, the CIA failed to reach any conclusion on the case in three years. The inquiry officially concluded when a federal judge ruled Pars’ lawsuit did not establish the CIA had a legal obligation to conduct an inquiry. It’s a sobering message to other CIA employees that speaking up might not afford them or their peers any respite from these types of conditions.
why legal counsel can be a valuable asset when bringing charges that fall into the whistleblower category
In 2012, the Obama administration passed an act intended to ensure government employees could report waste, fraud or abuse. The new law, famously inspired by the acts of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, promised access to a jury trial and due process for anyone coming forward with potentially damaging information about public or private organizations.
Even before Obama, we had the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, which protects government employees from the negative repercussions of any action they take to disclose information about government failure to comply with existing rules or regulations.
Protections guaranteed in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act were not available to Snowden, said the court, because he failed to bring the matter in front of the Securities and Exchange Commission. It’s a good example of why legal counsel can be a valuable asset when bringing charges that fall into the whistleblower category.
Additionally, in February 2018, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 against a California man who reported misconduct inside his company, but not to the federal government.
The case in question involves Digital Realty Trust, an investment company that fired Paul Somers in 2014 for reporting to senior management that his supervisor was falsely reporting company finances. In the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Somers did not provide information to the Commission before his termination…so he did not qualify as a ‘whistleblower.’”
If it feels like the power of the common man is slipping away, that is because it is
Large businesses are viewing the decision as a win, taking the stance that stricter interpretation of the law might help eliminate “meritless” whistleblower claims. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Cato Institute and other pro-business organizations quickly joined the bandwagon, writing amicus briefs supporting Digital Realty’s innocence in the matter.
If it feels like the power of the common man is slipping away, that is because it is. Ultimately, turning a blind eye when people pipe up about corruption is more harmful than acknowledging a claim. That holds true whether the case in question involves a small business or the CIA.
The result is that people who do choose to speak up will go straight to federal investigators, which will, in turn, bring about more significant fines and criminal charges for corporate malfeasance. It's a lose/lose situation in the long run, but that doesn’t seem to be our current government’s concern.
Despite knowing the decisions we make now will shape our future as a nation, we continuously see this rhetoric of instant gratification. The Trump administration is certainly guilty of it. However, in the instance cited above, it's the Supreme Court, which operates independently of the president. So, you have to ask: Is this something we should get used to?
About the author
Born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Kate Harveston is a recent college graduate and an aspiring journalist. She enjoys writing about social change and human rights issues, but she has written on a wide variety of other topics as well.
She blogs on social and cultural issues at Only Slightly Biased.
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