Monday, February 18, 2008

Where's the Beef?

Hallmark/Westland of Chino California has issued the largest beef recall in U.S. history because of inspection violations. This is not a case where some meat was found to be contaminated so they recalled all the meat from a specific plant. That would be bad enough. This is a case where a meat packer slaughtered cattle that could not stand, and cruely forced them to stand so they'd pass an inspection by, in a sense. waterborading them (I kind of love that part). Downer cattle, those that can't stand, are supposed to be removed from the food supply because they might carry Mad Cow disease. Hallmark/Westland is recalling 143 million pounds of beef, going back two years (in other wrds, most of it has already been eaten).

It doesn't matter that the health risk from this beef is very low. What matters is that these guys violated slaughter regulations and got away with it for two years. I'm from California originally, and agriculture (not movies or computers like some people think) is the business that drives the economy of my home state. After the letuce recall awhile back this is another big blow. But that is not what pisses me off.

I expect things like this to happen in the industrial food chain--more so since I read The Omnivore's Delima. And I still eat meat (well not at the moment--it's Lent). So that is not what pisses me off either.

What pisses me off is that this happened on Bush's watch. No, I'm serious. I blame George Bush. I blame Bush and Carl Rove and Dick Cheney and I blame everyone who put them in charge of our country, because I don't beleive it's coincidentalt hat this has happened now. The Repubicans have for years fostered an anti-regulatory, pro-business agenda that reaches into all corners of the executive branch, including those corners that are supposed to keep us safe from contaminated beef or oil spills or air polution or nuclear disaster. All of this is linked. At the core of these problems is a philosophy that the governement should never tell business what to do because it would interfere with business's ability to make a profit. Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman (far more, I think, than Adam Smith) combine to create a philosophy of no government wherein the fix for problems like the one at Hallmark Westfiled will come when somebody gets sick and people stop buying meat, or at least stop buying meat from Hallmark Westfield. Under this core principal of Republican politics, there should be no regulation of the beef industry, nor of pork, chicken, fish, produce, medicines, alcohol, or anytyhing else. If a couple hundred people die from eating beef from Hallmark/Westfield the company will go out of business because people will stop buying their products. Of course, a couple hundred people will have to die for that to happen, or maybe more, since Mad Cow takes a long time to develop (most of this food was going to school cafeteria's by the way). Regulation not only impinges on profits, it also holds back the good business by not allowing them to build public trust by *not* making people sick--or so the suply side theorists would say.

But for the woman whose child died from eating contaminated food at school, that's little comfort. From the people whose brains slowly rot away because they are turning into sponges, it doesn't matter that Hallmark/Westfield might go out of business. But tha't ok from a pro-business point of view. The answer to these problems is corrective, not preventative.

Business. A lot was made by the fact that this would be the first MBA presidency, that Bush was not a lawyer nor a professor but an MBA. This is the Business Presidential Administration, and look what it's gotten us. Business has a free reign to do just about whatever it wants--at least until the press catches them at it and then there's an outcry which will result in absolutely nothing. Profits are up but earnings are stagnant. The mega-millionaires are leaving plain old millionaires behind. Magazines are publishing articles about how good it is for America that we've entered a second "gilded age." And the ninth-ward in New Orleans is still in ruins, and Hallmark/Westfield gets to kill downer cows for two years before somebody calls them on it. And this won't hurt beef too much. Oh, PETA and the Humane society will cry, and vegitarians will be saying "we told you so," but MacDonalds will still be the most popular restrauint in the world. Somebody once said that the purpose of a retraction in a newspaper was to make people belive that everything else printed in that newspaper was true. The same can be said of recalls. They give the impression that all the rest of the products (meat, cars, letuce, whatever), which weren't recalled, are safe. So even the recall is, in a way, good for business. The industry will be able to say "we are correcting the problems" and pro-business pundits will say "this is an isolated incident" and people will say to themselves "see, the government *is* doing something to protect us," and it will all be a lie. BEef certainly won't be outlawed, and people will certianly stil get sick, and Bill Maher will continue to rave like a lunatic (he'll be insuferable on his show this week, just watch).

And all in the name of business.

If I were to right a fictional epic, I'd write one about a familly that was old school New England money, that had been intervntionist and supported the Nazis during WWII, that had been in the oil business and sold oil to Germany right up until the war (or maybe even during the war, like Frod managed to do with car parts). The scion of this family would enter politics so that he could influence business decisions as a senator and later influence foreign policy as head of the CIA, primarily to help his idunstry, the oil industry, and other businesses get out from under the regulatory blanket cast upon them by the New Deal. He'd use his position to prop up dictators who would sell us oil, and to undermine nations that wouldn't, all the while building bridges with the Saudi Royal family. His son would become an oil executive and then enter politics himself becomeing president with the help of his oil-industry cronies and his father's contacts. If I was really sinister I'd imply that he would foment a national emergency, some big terrorist act that would prompt America to suspend its liberties and enter into a never ending war which would have the net effect of driving up oil prices and profits and keeping them high indefinitely, as simultaneously they starved the regulatory branches of government until they were completely innefectual. And lurking beneath the surface would be the fact that it was all revenge against Roosevelt for the new deal and for WWII. I'd even arange to have some of his highly placed staffers to have family ties to fascism, and maybe some of his republican allies as well, like the governor of a big state. Then, in the greatest and most sinister example of corruption of all (because all great corruption thrillers eventually lead to the church--see Godfather III), I'd make it so that his conservative pro-business cabal arranged to have a Nazi become the next Pope, giving them the spiritual authority to continue their pro-business crusade. Then this new-world order could continue to make deveopment loans to small countries that strangled social services, to trade currencies back and forth on a global scale so nobody's money was worth anything for very long, to eliminate trade restrictions that protected peoples health or people's jobs, to move manufacturing to countries with low labor costs thereby getting rid of all those high paying union jobs that ate into share-holders' profits for so long, and fight the little wars that kept oil flowing but at an exhorbitantly higher price.

If I wrote that novel nobody would buy it. It would be too unbelievable.


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