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Posts Tagged ‘government’

I spent a few hours this morning interviewing a friend of mine for a chapter in my book. My friend has spent his entire career in government and has recently and delightedly retired.  During his professional lifespan, he worked for the Department of Agriculture, specifically Food Safety, and with the Food and Drug Administration, with short stints with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation. The guy got around, mostly unhappily, which may explain why the once pro-government liberal seems to have turned into a libertarian. He’s all for removing government from our lives and damned if he didn’t make a compelling case for doing just that. I’m not convinced yet but I was struck by the extent to which government has insinuated itself into our lives, mandating certain behaviors we take for granted are in our best interests, although they may not be.

What? You say you know that already? Then you’re more informed than I, or perhaps I haven’t put things together as he has. Sure, it could be argued that he’s a bit paranoid. Then again, he’s watched government work – or not work – from the inside for thirty years. What follows are a few of his examples which, amazingly, don’t even address the subject of post 9/11 erosion of civil rights.

  • It takes roughly 10 years for a drug to make it to the market place because of all the FDA requirements. That may seem like a good thing except that if you discover a cure for cancer and you’re not Merck, you won’t have the resources to keep your tiny research company alive long enough to get the drug out there.
  • Speaking of drugs, you don’t have to be pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine to realize that perhaps the argument shouldn’t be whether individual vaccines are effective in inoculating children (studies have shown they are) versus whether individual vaccines are dangerous for some children but rather whether combining all the vaccines and their preservatives and putting them all at once in a tiny body is the best method of delivery or might actually cause avoidable harm. Have we seen that study?
  • You may have noticed your car doesn’t have bumpers. Bumpers worked well in absorbing the impact of a low-speed crash, say in a parking lot or at a stop sign, where many accidents take place but they were eliminated in order to make lighter, faster cars that would presumably get better fuel mileage. Nowadays, cars get better gas mileage, probably because of more efficient engines, but there’s no  study showing bumper-less cars helped. However, rest assured that the decorative fascia that replaced the bumpers don’t absorb impact well and cost much much more to replace, which of course impacts your insurance.
  • All you drivers know seat belts must be worn; you can be pulled over and arrested if you’re not buckled in. Air bags are standard on all vehicles. We know that seat belts can keep you from flying out the car. They can also keep you from escaping the car. Air bags deploy in many instances, like that parking lot fender-bender described above and have been shown to be dangerous to children, pregnant women, pets, smaller people and anyone who wears glasses. These things save lives and also cost lives but anyway, it’s out of your hands at this point.

These are but a very few of the tidbits my friend shared with me, along with some insights into how regulations come into being. One thing we both noted is how often people petition the government for redress of one kind or another. We may not want to pay for Uncle Sam’s interference but we want him to make things better, even in the face of mounting evidence  that he isn’t always on top of his game. 

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I’m more of a Mets fan than a Yankees follower (I retain a favored place for the hapless Cubs) but I’m a long-time fan of Joe Torre. The catcher (beginning with my hometown team, the Milwaukee Braves) turned manager (including several seasons for the Mets), has been a real class act over the last twelve years, a nice balance to the bombastic George Steinbrenner, who he has famously withstood. But twelve years is a long time, punctuated by several inglorious near-misses as well as those World Series wins, not to mention health scares for him and his family. So is it time for Torre to go? Even his admirers think that something’s gotta give. From the sports writers to the bean counters to the Ultimate Decider, everyone’s looking at job performance, return on investment and (hopefully) the team’s well-being. Someone is (or several someones are) then held accountable and action is taken. The Mets are going through the same painful process across town.

 

Accountability seems to be operational in sports, maybe because so much money is involved. Still, I can’t help but wonder why it doesn’t work better when it comes to our government. Technically, we’re all owners. It’s our money. Elections are coming up. Let’s take a page from the owners and hell, the fans and get more insistent about job performance, return on investment and the well-being of our nation. The buck’s gotta stop somewhere.

 

 

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Two of the bigger news items this week were the announcement that Medicare would no longer cover hospital errors and the National Intelligence Estimate‘s downbeat assessment of the current strategy in Iraq. Putting the stories side by side is a real eye-opener. Most people (hospital officials notwithstanding) have hailed the Medicare ruling as a first step in improving the quality of patient care. Hospitals will have to pro-actively find ways to reduce preventable occurrences. It makes both economic and moral sense. But no obvious first step presents itself in the NIE report. For every possible “solution” there seems to be a contra-indication. The troops are containing the violence but without the political will amongst the various Iraqi factions, there is no eliminating it. The abrupt withdrawal of American forces could precipitate a bloodbath yet there aren’t enough troops available to sustain the so-called surge. And in this case, we don’t seem to be able to find a way to stop paying for policy errors, and get some party or other to do what makes both economic and moral sense.

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…for the ashes of James (Scotty from “Startrek”) Doohan and Gordon (the Mercury astronaut) Cooper, which ended up falling back to the New Mexico desert from which they were shot into space; for a copy of Michael Moore’s film, which he is hiding while he tussles with the Treasury Department over the trip he took to Cuba with several ill ground zero workers supposedly to get help for them and to illustrate the failing U.S. health care system (there’s a line somewhere that got crossed, I think); for the secret to success and happiness, which you can find either in dozens of self-help books or “Reader’s Digest” articles that have been published over the years, or in the newest fad reading, The Secret, for which you can shell out $34.95 to learn to send out only positive thoughts. I get it: just don’t say no.

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