Friday, February 06, 2009

FEIGNING INTEREST IN FIXING THINGS: The way we 'work'

Readers surely have noticed DD's usage of "predator state security" in describing the system which has us in its tight grasp. I've taken it from James K. Galbraith's "The Predator State." It's a book that perfectly crystallized what's wrong with stuff.

Why does everything suck? Why is life in the US a regular exercise in avoiding scams, cheats and career or life-changing disasters beyond your control? Why does it seem like an endless commercial for buying a variety of insurances that don't insure, education which guarantees nothing, or blandishments to put all your gold and jewelry in an envelope to be sent to a complete stranger in return for promises of cash money?

Well, Galbraith's "The Predator State" has some answers. Briefly, it's because things have been fixed to be that way.

"But if the government is predatory," Galbraith writes, "then it too will fail in every substantial way. Government will not cope with global warming, or Hurricane Katrina ... or avian influenza or the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Nothing will work and nothing will be done about the fact that nothing works."

And so it is always antagonizing to read of the latest round of congressional hearings and subsequent news stories about the failure of the government to prevent or forestall the massive distribution of salmonella in peanut products.

It is merely the latest in a series of similar debacles which stretch back nearly two years when pets were poisoned nationwide by another massive distribution of made-deadly food. And after the furor over that subsided, another half a year or so went by until a respected American company, Baxter, sickened and killed kidney dialysis and surgery patients nationwide with poisoned heparin which had escaped the firm's control in its development of a better bottom line. (Nineteen people died because of bad heparin almost a year ago. That's eleven more deaths than in the current salmonella case and fourteen more than the anthrax mailer killed. Hearings were held. Nothing was done by the predator state. See here.)

Which brings us to the sickeningly familiar salmonella in peanuts event.

"The Agriculture Department on Thursday banned the company implicated in the nationwide contamination of peanut products from doing business with the federal government," reported the New York Times late last night. "At least eight people have died and hundreds have been sickened after eating tainted products."

Then the Times report reveals the predator state in action, the director of the banned company being part of a regulatory group to make sure peanuts are safe.

"The order, which affects the Peanut Corporation of America and a subsidiary, will remain in force for one year," read the Times report. "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also stripped the company’s chief executive of his seat on a board that advises the government on peanut quality standards."

By way of comparison, the Chinese government recently sentenced to death two people involved in the contamination of milk products with the adulterant known as melamine, an event which caused kidney stones in children in that country.

In another comparison, there have been three more deaths -- and many, many more cases of illness in the salmonella contamination -- that what occurred during the time of the anthrax mailings. And it is quite possible if Bruce Ivins had been brought to trial, the government would have sought the death penalty.

"David Shipman, an acting administrator at the Agriculture Department, said, 'The actions of Peanut Corp. of America indicate that the company lacks business integrity and business honesty, which seriously and directly hinders its ability to do business with the federal government.'”

And it killed people. Which is why it was banned for an entire year. That seems like a long enough time for causing some deaths, right?

In the predator state, congress gathers to vow reform, as it did half a year ago when there was another food scandal, and a few months before that -- when toys were found to be painted with lead. And reforms are promised and condemnations made. And then nothing happens except a few months later, quietly, waivers are made so that lead doesn't have to be removed from stuff right away because it would hinder business interests.

So perish forbid the government destroy the Peanut Corp. for the good of the public.

Instead, it becomes necessary to blame the FDA, an agency which was hung out to dry over the last eight years or so, presumably because it's more important to protect Americans from terrorism than -- uh, domestic companies poisoning them in pursuit of the bottom line. Even though it's internal threats which have been hosing us.

Point of comparison: budget request for US Department of Homeland Security -- $50.5 billion. Budget request for FDA FY 2008 -- $2.1 billion.

These figures are to make anyone with a shred of common sense laugh out loud. They make the FDA out to be something regarded as little but an annoying appendix to the US government, something that gets in the way of commerce. And those engaged in commerce can police themselves.

So when our congressmen and the president make a noise about failure at the FDA, they're not fixing stuff. They're just going about business as usual. And this is particularly disappointing from President Obama, a man elected because the citizenry wishes him to do away with predator state business practice, even though it may not immediately recognize the term.

"This week, Mr. Obama said his administration would thoroughly review the operations of the F.D.A. and complained that the agency had been slow responding to food safety problems," continued the New York Times.

So merely banning a company for a year isn't close to a remedy. When dealing with the consequences of predator state action, stronger medicine is called for. Like, for example, the immediate liquidation of the firm, criminal prosecutions and the permanent banishment of its leaders from doing business in the United States in perpetuity. In other words, a business death penalty.

And today, at the Los Angeles Times, it's Top of the Ticket blog carried the same script: The FDA is inept.

"Congress, tired of the FDA's bureaucratic ineptitude, is weighing in," the LAT blog reads.

"This week, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) fired the first salvo. Flanked by the Vermont mother of a 7-year-old boy who survived the recent salmonella outbreak and the Minnesota son of a 72-year-old woman who did not, DeLauro introduced the Food Safety Modernization Act, which threatens to shake up the cozy world of food regulation."

Keep in mind that only yesterday DD cited the budget increase congress threw at the FDA six months ago -- $275 million -- when another contamination was in the news.

Compare this ridiculous and miserly figure with the almost one trillion dollar expenditure in the stimulus package, monies also slated for improving the well-being of the country's infrastructure as well as its economy.

Compare it to this, another rib-tickler, from the Department of Homeland Security's budget page: "An increase of $442.4 million is requested in the President’s Budget to hire, train and equip 2,200 new Border Patrol Agents. The additional agents represent the fiscal 2009increment of the president’s goal of adding 6,000 new Border Patrol Agents by the end of the first quarter of fiscal year 2009."

Ho! Ho! Ho! Hilarious! The FDA must be inept! When it is revealed the head of Peanut Company of America was on a regulatory board that advises the government on peanut quality standards, never mind. Chastise and ridicule the FDA and its penny-ante budget, instead. Vow improvement! Swear before God that another Protect the Food and Drugs agency must be formed, one perhaps to be filled with appointees picked from the companies it's supposed to oversee.

Galbraith's "The Predator State" explains that the charges of ineptitude are typical of the system. "Failure [on this scale] is not due to incompetence," he writes. "Rather, it is intended. There is a willful indifference to the problems of competence."

In this case, the agency is not to blame. Instead, Congress has been indifferent to the problem. It has had way more than a year to do something. Instead, the record clearly shows it has emitted a great noise without actually doing anything to significantly increase the resources of the agency or food security. The Bush administration was indifferent, too. When pressured in mid-2008 to add some money to an already minor FDA budget, it offered a foolishly trivial sum, much less than what the Department of Homeland Security gets to just hire and train new border patrolmen alone. What the Obama administration chooses to do and what Congress will now approve remains to be seen.

What does it take to fix a thing when nothing works, when predator state action blocks every effort of reform, presenting the accomplishment of nothing but the continuation of the status quo as change?

"Dealing with this issue, in other words, is a race against time," warns Galbraith.



Predator state security -- from the archives.

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