Proper Peer Policing

I’m going to be a little candid about my work in the military. I’m in the Navy, and for at least a few months more, I’m what is affectionately referred to as a “Navy Nuke.” That is to say that I’m a member of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. As I never properly went to college, I flog this fact a little to build up the self esteem.

Nukes are the cream of the crop, intellectually, that the military has to offer. Point of fact, when I went through the two year long school required to go through the program, the curriculum was the third most difficult rated in the country, bested only by MIT and Harvard Law. Yes, my ego is delicate and quite often needs fluffing; my wife and I have only recently gotten to a point where I’m comfortable with her not calling me “genius” at least three times a day.

Seriously, having such rigorous academic requirements makes sense when you are talking about letting a bunch of high school grads (and in some instances, not even that) run floating nuclear power plants all over the world. But even two years of grueling study isn’t enough. Kids often finish their training and join the fleet in a state of carelessness, dishonesty, ignorance, and just plain out old stupidity. That’s why high standards of training just isn’t gonna be enough to run a successful program. That’s why we have an internal policing program.

The point of peer policing, or internal policing is so that other people don’t do it for you. You are proving to the world that you are responsible enough to fix your own problems so that the world doesn’t have to impose itself upon you to make sure your problems get fixed.

The end result? For about fifty years, the Navy has operated without serious incident nuclear power plants aboard numerous ships. We do this quietly and without much protest. It’s difficult for a civillian ran power plant to open up in a disused plot of land with college grads running the show, and yet the Navy, largely because of its very stringent internal policing policies, is able to operate just about anywhere, docking ships in large urban areas both here in the US, an in many countries around the world (I’ve been to a few, they’re pretty great).

That’s what good internal policing gets for you. Bad peer policing typically results in your dirty laundry getting aired all over the newspapers. Dirty laundry like, say, I don’t know, Tom Delay, Rep. “Duke” Cunningham, Jackie the Stool Pigeon, Bob Ney, etc.

I bring this up to remind you if you forgot, or inform you if you never knew, that congress does in fact have a similar peer policing system in place. Both the Senate, and the House have “Ethics Committees” whose job it is to ensure that congressmen adhere to what one would hope to be a decent standard of “Ethical Behavior”.

It’s important, I think, to keep this in mind after both parties have now put forth their own bills that are aimed at preventing another Jackie the Stool Pigeon episode. Now, putting on my political analyst hat, yes this is about the only move either party could make. Shame on the Democrats for letting the GOP beat them to the punch. Further, to really glean any success out of this, the Democratic caucus really needs to emphasize the differences between the GOP’s version, and the Democrat’s version, or it’s a wash. Either way, the most likely way this will end is with the Republican version easily passing, thereby at least allowing them to mitigate some of the damage.

But that’s neither here nor there, and it’s really too early to see how this battle will really shape up. I want to remind you about the theme of internal policing that we’ve been discussing thus far, and then I would like to direct you to the latter portion of the article I linked to above. In fact, there are a few things that are so important that I’ll even go ahead and quote them for you right here so you don’t have to hunt for them.

1) “A lot of what was going on was already against the rules,” Common Cause spokeswoman Mary Boyle said. “There just wasn’t any enforcement.”

Ouch… Okay, but Ms. Boyle’s not quite done with us yet…

2) “In the 18 months since the Abramoff scandal has unfolded, neither the House or Senate ethics committees has taken any action,” Boyle said. “The peer-review approach just doesn’t work. Basically the ethics committee process in Congress is used as a weapon.”

And here we arrive back at my point. What’s the point? Seriously, what’s the point in toughening the laws? I mean, what good is a law if you’re going to break it anyway. What we have here is exactly this: a failure of an internal peer-based police system failing to do its job. So maybe what we don’t need is new laws that aren’t enforced, but instead a new way to make sure the old laws are.

Oh, and by the way, for Sen. Lott, maybe you should eat at McDonald’s for your business luncheon. Or here’s a thought, who says you have to eat out during these things at all? It’s called PB & J, and maybe, just maybe, it might helpt to give some of you and your ethically challenged colleagues a sense of perspective.

Til Next Time

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