Thursday, November 3, 2011

Someone should follow-up on that then huh?

In Sunday's NY Times Magazine, (readers will learn I'm a bit infatuated with the Sunday magazine and it will probably serve as the source for many my blog posts), there is a good article on our preparedness against bio-terrorism. Namely, that it blows. The article, written by Wil S. Hylton, is very good, and you should probably go read it yourselves (though no one ever does).  There is a small part of the article that I believe bears much more examination. In fact, the reason behind this post is in hopes that someone will do the legwork of doing a little more digging into the role lobbying has played in our anti-bio-terrorism preparedness. Hylton does an excellent job of getting some on-the-record statements accusing a pharmaceutical company named Emergent of killing some promising anthrax vaccination work by a different pharmaceutical company named VaxGen.
A former commander of the Army's medical research program, Maj. General Philip K. Russell, tells Hylton "It was Emergent lobbying that killed VaxGen. Period. Emergent bought the Congress. Congress killed VaxGen." 
Since Hylton's story is not about lobbying practices or Congressional reform, the segment ends there. But this is in an important launching point for further investigation.  Was this evidence of Congressional impropriety? Was an important anti-terrorism program shut down for cynical political reasons? My guess is yes. But at this point it's only a guess, supported by named and unnamed high-end sources within the article. But these types of things can be researched. It would be interesting to look at Emergent (and VaxGen) campaign finance expenditures. The timing of these expenditures is particularly important. When people like OWS complain about the confluence of big government and big corporations, this is the type of confluence that not only threatens profligate economic inequality, but it can also put American citizens in actual danger.

Now, I've long since stop pretending that I know how to sever the co-dependence of our government officials on wealthy corporate donors. I still think it might be something like the public financing of Congressional elections, but the policy effectiveness of these types of policies in states like Arizona and Maine have been difficult to measure (and as a liberal, I find the Arizona legislature to be particularly disastrous). We also KNOW that the public financing of elections doesn't work in presidential elections (because we've had it since the early 70s). And Barack Obama has annoyingly disproved my optimistic thinking that millions of small donor individuals ($5-$10) might actually move policy in a more populist direction. The reality is that Citibank and its employees will always be able to outspend you and me when it comes to important elections. And that's just one company gunning for deregulation and tax breaks. It's downright dispiriting when you think about the Chamber of Commerce as a whole.

Which reminds me of a paper I always wanted to write as a grad student. The continued power, influence, and uniformity of organizations like the Chamber of Commerce essentially disproves James Madison's Federalist #10, which argues that, in a Republic, factions (or interest groups) would be so numerous and varied that no one faction or group of factions would be able to control government. In other words, specific companies within the Chamber of Commerce should have such diverse interests (some companies for regulation to increase barriers to entry, others against, some companies in favor of carbon emission taxes, others against), that it couldn't effectively cooperate in any meaningful manner.  And yet, it is by far the most powerful organization in the country. I've always wondered how it pulls this off. How is it they settle on a basic set of economic policies? I mean, Netflix has a different set of preferred policies then, say, Hollywood, or internet providers, or the cable companies. And yet they all coexist naturally in the Chamber of Commerce. What's different about this organization?

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