Monday, March 3, 2008

Bush's Beef

The recent recall of ground beef, the largest in U.S. history, once again underscores the perfidious nature of the Bush administration's domestic policies, particularly in regard to its failure to protect ordinary Americans from the dangers precipitated by corporate rapacity. Indeed, under Bush's leadership, organizations like the Department of Agriculture, the FDA, the EPA, OSHA, and MSHA, have found their staffs cut, regulations rolled back, and leadership positions filled with corporate insiders. So it's no surprise that the incestuous relationship between the corporate interests/lobbying groups that have bankrolled Bush and the federal regulatory agencies seems analogous to putting the wolf in charge of guarding the hen house.

In 1906 Upton Sinclair published a little book on the meat-packing industry - The Jungle - which highlighted the unsanitary conditions in which beef was processed. The book shocked Americans, including reform-minded President Theodore Roosevelt. Although a Republican, Roosevelt was a torchbearer of the Progressive movement, a reform impulse with its roots in the 1880s and 1890s. Thanks to muckrakers like Ida Tarbell and Jacob Riis, state and local governments passed legislation to improve working conditions for many American laborers. Even the federal government responded to the greed and predatory practices of the "robber barons" of the Gilded Age and enacted measures like the Interstate Commerce Act and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Thanks to the public outrage generated by Upton Sinclair's work, and the support of Teddy Roosevelt, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act which authorized Department of Agriculture inspections of packing plants and also paved the way for the creation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Unfortunately, that Progressive spirit, and the belief that government has a role to play in insuring the safety of the products consumed by Americans, has been cast aside by Bush and his conservative allies under the guise of a "less government is better" sentiment. What really motivates them, however, is the close relationship they enjoy with the country's agri-business giants and corporate monoliths. Naturally corporations want as little regulation as possible, since regulation ostensibly diminishes profits. Mind you, this tug of war between corporate greed and the public interest is nothing new. As a nation we've witnessed the ill effects of this struggle for over a century. And as we so often see in history, the relationship between these two sides has been cyclical in nature. Obviously we're now in a period of corporate strength, with consumers suffering the consequences.

Surveying the wasteland of the Bush administration and its policies, Americans need to initiate a new reform impulse, calling on governments at every level to insure the safety of our citizens and allow our regulatory agencies to carry out their mandate free of the cancerous influence of corporate lobbyists and former executives. As something of a socialist, I naturally favor as much regulation as possible. Indeed, I would love to see a return of the spirit which guided FDR's "New Deal" and LBJ's "Great Society" programs. Although our next president will never advocate such radical reform - since both Democrats and Republicans owe fealty to a diverse field of corporations and special interest groups - the winner in November will have to address the mess left behind by Bush in nearly every agency, from the Justice Department to OSHA. Without this effort, the new president can neither maintain his credibility nor hope to restore Americans' faith in their government.


Caslav said...

Why is it Bush's fault that the current staff at the FDA is not doing their job properly? Videos of downer cattle can make their way to the internet, but can't make it to the offices of the FDA? I'm sorry but problem here is people not doing their job.

I'd be willing to bet good money that the laborers who are shoving the downer cattle and dead chickens into the processing plant are union democrats.

See how silly that statement looks? The fact is I don't know what posseses these workers to fail to use common sense anymore than you do. Stupidity knows no political affiliation.

BrianC said...

Ideally, the regulatory agencies would have enough inspectors to catch this sort of thing and protect us from the sloppiness and stupidity of the workers, particularly in an industry known for harsh working conditions and poorly-trained staffs. However, because the Bush administration cut staffs and repealed measures, the agencies can't do their jobs. And the bottom line is that they don't WANT them to do their jobs. Industry desires less government interference and that's what they've gotten after nearly eight years of Republican rule.

Caslav said...

I don't deal with the FDA on a daily basis, but I do deal with the U.S. EPA (Region 3) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) on a daily basis.

Over the past 17 years, both of these agencies have become more business friendly, not because of a political agenda by either the left or the right, but because out of necessity. As a nation, we can not continue to let our inner cities and industrial areas rot because NEW business is afraid to take the risk to redevelop these properties due to environmental hazards. Frankly, now that we have standards that are based on science and regulations that promote re-development (thanks to former Gov. Tom Ridge in PA) we are actually SAVING greenspace and slowing urban sprawl.

I don't know how the FDA operates, however, I think it is feasible to transpose what I do know about the EPA over to other governmental agencies. I highly doubt there is a secret mandate by the republicans to infect the populace with CJD by feeding it downer cattle.

jblack designs said...

Have you read Fast Food Nation? I'm sad to say that not as much has changed since The Jungle as we would like to think.

I'm also glad that I don't eat meat.