Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why The Ebola Crisis Is Only The Latest Government-Scripted Disaster

The news that the Centers for Disease Control was unprepared for the ebola virus now that it has made landfall in the U.S. is not exactly a bolt from the blue.  Government agencies have been failing us for many years.
The CDC, it turns out, had issued lax guidelines to health-care providers on how to treat people with ebola-like symptoms, the predictable result being that one person is dead at a Dallas hospital because of appallingly lax emergency room care and two nurses have been infected.  The question of whether these infections are outliers or merely the first casualties in what will become a full-blown public health crisis is now looming very large, as is the credibility of the CDC.
Unless you've been living in a cave, you know that the CDC has plenty of company.  Here's a partial list:

* The Agriculture Department is beholden to major food producers, which is why schoolkids still eat a lot of crap despite the efforts of First Lady Michelle Obama, pediatric obesity specialists and others not in the ketchup-as-vegetable crowd. 

* The Food and Drug Administration is beholden to profits-obsessed Big Pharma, which is why undertested prescription drugs kill and maim so many people. 

* The Defense Department is beholden to big defense contractors, which is why the armed forces are unable to wean themselves from ridiculously expensive and unnecessary weapons systems three decades after the Cold War drew its last breath. 

* The Federal Highway Administration is beholden to  vehicle manufacturers as has been shown in the sorry saga of too little oversight in General Motors' recall of tens of millions of unsafe vehicles.

* The Federal Communications Commission is beholden to the gigantic national cable television companies who believe the best Internet is one that most folks can barely afford.

* The Department of the Interior is beholden to the corporations who are turning our national parks into trees with McDonald's.
* The Department of Education is unable . . . no make that unwilling to really crack down on for-profit colleges that graduate few of their students but suck up hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid money.

* The Department of the Interior is beholden to the corporations who are turning our national parks into trees with McDonald's.

* The Department of Veterans Affair has, of course, recently been in the crosshairs for cooking its books in the service of not treating needy vets at its network of hospitals.  
* The Secret Service has shown itself to be so dysfunctional that the safety of the president has repeatedly been compromised. 
* And who can forget the reform-averse Securities and Exchange Commission, which slept through the run-up to the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression despite an abundance of warning signs and has pretty much taken a powder when it comes to preventing the kind of Wall Street excesses that triggered the downturn. 
Who have I left out?
Barack Obama happens to be the guy in the Oval Office and must take responsibility, to some extent, for these failures.  But every one of them predates his presidency.  Bill Clinton, for example, is the bad guy when it comes to the deregulation of banks and other lending institutions who were among the chief villains in the recession, while the administration of George W. Bush elevated defanging federal agencies to an art form.
While we're spreading blame around, let's not forget the Supreme Court and Congress.  Oh, and us.
The top court, which has morphed into a de facto arm of the Republican Party (do not be misled by the recent spate of non-decisions on abortion and same-sex marriage), effectively neutered the Food and Drug Administration a few years ago when it ruled that consumers could not sue the agency for its slipshod reviews of bad medical devices, to cite but one decision with a decidedly pro-big business slant.
Congress, meanwhile, has acted more like an ambulance-chasing attorney than a watchdog when government agencies fail us.  Time and again, the folks up on Capitol Hill, who are in the bag with well-heeled and well-connected campaign contributors, have reacted to bureaucratic-fueled crises with scripted outrage.  It turns out, of course, that many of these crises stem from the unwillingness of legislators to adequately fund agencies in the first place, the VA hospitals scandal being only the latest such instance, or their refusal to put real teeth into agencies' regulatory choppers, the GM recall scandal being only the latest such instance.
Finally, how many of us -- and not just those Tea Party wackadoodles -- criticize government for being too big and too meddlesome until we want it to do its job, whether protecting our Uncle Leo from hemorrhagic viruses, making sure his plane is airworthy and lands without incident when he visits at Thanksgiving, or that he not be stuck on a secret VA waiting list when this sweet old Vietnam vet really, really needs a new artificial limb.

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