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“Stop Bashing The CDC”: Government Is The Enemy Until You Need A Friend

After a rough start dealing with America’s first Ebola cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appear to be getting the problem under control. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be more incidents; a health care worker was diagnosed with the virus in New York yesterday after returning from West Africa. But the CDC now seems better able to control secondary infections, particularly among health care workers, who are at the greatest risk.

As the 21-day incubation period lapses without new infections in Texas, dozens of people are being cleared from the watch list. But Ebola lingers as a reminder of how easily safety organizations can weaken and what we must do to keep them effective.

“Government is the enemy until you need a friend,” said former Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Government organizations like the CDC, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration exist mostly to be our friends when we need protection from harm.

Unfortunately safety organizations like these don’t get much love in between disasters. They get attacked by those who covet their budget. They get attacked by those who hate government in general. They get attacked by corporations that don’t want to spend the money to comply with regulation. And they face political pressure to paper over potential problems that could embarrass some elected official. It’s hard to retain talent under conditions like that.

When we don’t take care of our safety organizations and don’t listen to them, they atrophy. Then disasters happen, and whoever is on watch ducks the blame. The person on watch always uses words like “Nobody could have foreseen …” For example: “Nobody could have foreseen” that the Army Corps’ levees in New Orleans would crumble during Hurricane Katrina. “Nobody could have foreseen” that terrorists might hijack an airplane and fly it into a building on 9/11. “Nobody could have foreseen” that dismantling Glass-Steagall Act protections would lead banks to gamble with taxpayer-guaranteed deposits. Not true. In most cases, agency staff anticipated the problem and tried to warn their bosses, but the boss didn’t pay attention because it was politically inconvenient or too expensive.

Frankly it’s a wonder that our safety agencies work as well as they do. The CDC is a case in point; they got many things right after their original poor response:

  • They quickly acknowledged that procedures were not working.
  • They didn’t circle the wagons. They listened to international medical organizations that had more experience in handling Ebola in the field.
  • They rapidly rolled out new procedures and equipment for protecting staff and training people in the proper use of the equipment.
  • Without succumbing to hysteria and political pressure, they updated travel regulations to ve rify the health of travelers from Africa while allowing essential aid workers to move unimpeded.

CDC did not do what so many agencies and private sector entities do in similar situations: Deny the problem, conceal data, refuse to change and retaliate against critics. The CDC responded and recovered more quickly than most. For example, they responded even more quickly than the U.S. Army did in giving our troops adequate protection against improvised explosive devices in Iraq.

Whatever the mistakes of government safety organizations, private sector safety organizations – the ones that exist inside corporations – are often much, much worse. Halliburton Co. and their contractors undercut internal safety processes in the prelude to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and four years later, they’re still fighting over who’s to blame. American International Group Inc.’s internal risk-management processes failed dismally in the subprime mortgage crisis, and rather than accept responsibility, they’re still arguing over the terms of the taxpayer bailout that saved them from bankruptcy.

Fast recovery is perhaps the best we can realistically ask of any safety organization, public or private, which faces infrequent, catastrophic risks. If we want these organizations to do the job, we need to treat them right. We need to give them the budget they need to conduct drills and stay sharp. We need to give them professional leadership and not put political appointees in charge. And we need to drop the hypocrisy of treating them as the enemy in between those rare but inevitable moments when we need them to save us. Far from failing, the CDC performed well under the circumstances. We won’t always be so lucky.

 

By: David Brodwin, Economic Intelligence, U. S, News and World Report, October 24, 2014

 

October 29, 2014 Posted by | CDC, Ebola, Federal Government | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“She Will Be Heard”: Elizabeth Warren Knows Where A Lot Of The Bodies Are Buried, Puts AIG On Notice

When new members arrive in the US Senate, they are supposed to take a seat on a back bench and listen quietly for a couple of years. That is not in Elizabeth Warren’s nature. She had been a US Senator from Massachusetts for only about a week when she broke with etiquette. Warren was outraged that AIG investors were urging the insurance giant’s directors to join them in a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming damages from the federal bailout of their company during the financial crisis.

The freshman senator sent out a tartly worded statement to her many fans and followers. “AIG should thank American taxpayers for their help—not bite the hand that fed them,” Warren wrote. The message swept the blogosphere like wild fire. The AIG directors folded the next day. It is perhaps mistaken to assume her voice alone stopped this corporate ingratitude in its tracks, but that may well be the message absorbed in Washington politics. Try not to provoke this new senator, especially on the stuff she knows a lot about. She might bite back.

Indeed, Senator Warren has renewed the accusation about the AIG bailout she had made a year ago during her Senate campaign. While the Federal Reserve pumped a fortune ($182 billion) into saving AIG from failure and thereby protected Wall Street megabanks from huge losses, the Treasury Department was arranging its own “sleuth bailout,” as Warren charged. Treasury granted an exception to the standard tax rules that delivered billions more to AIG in the form of a special tax break.

The company was effectively relieved from paying any taxes despite the fact that it has returned to profitability and repaid the Federal Reserve loans. The senator called on her supporters to join a campaign to end AIG’s special tax break. “Enough is enough…,” she wrote. “These special tax giveaways give AIG a competitive advantage over its competitors—all the while inflating AIG’s profit numbers and compensation for executives.”

What separates Elizabeth Warren from your typical newcomer to Congress—in addition to the rare gutsiness—is her deep knowledge of banking and finance. For many years, while she taught at the Harvard law school, Warren was a lonely crusader, exposing predatory bankers and the cruel terms by which millions of families were driven into bankruptcy.

Her reputation led to appointment as the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel that investigated the AIG bailout in great depth. The COP final report is itself an extraordinary document of government—clear and concise, an unflinching analysis that describes exactly how the Federal Reserve and the Treasury failed to serve the public interest in their incestuous bailout of Wall Street titans.

“The AIG rescue demonstrated that Treasury and the Federal Reserve would commit taxpayers to pay any price and bear any burden to prevent the collapse of America’s largest financial institutions,” Warren’s report concluded.

She will be heard. The new senator will serve on the Senate banking committee and she already knows where a lot of the bodies are buried. I suspect some of those disgruntled AIG investors are wishing they had kept their whining to themselves.

 

By: William Greider, The Nation, January 10, 2013

January 11, 2013 Posted by | Banks | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Former Sen. Phil “Mental Recession” Phil Gramm Endorses His “Protege” Rick Perry

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) yesterday jumped in the 2012 GOP presidential primary, saying that “it is time to get America working again.” “I will work every day to make Washington, DC, as inconsequential in your lives as I can, and free our families, small businesses and states from a burdensome and costly federal government so they can create, innovate and succeed,” he said. And Perry quickly picked up the endorsementof former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX):

Former senator and current banker Phil Gramm of Texas — well-connected to big donors but controversial for his role in preventing tighter regulation of Wall Street — told The Huffington Post yesterday that he is endorsing his former student and political protege, Texas Gov. Rick Perry...”I’m for Rick and I will do what I can to help,” Gramm said in an interview in Detroit. “He has been an effective governor. He is a determined guy from a small town who knows how to get things done.”

In 2008, Gramm, who was advising Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) presidential campaign (and was floated as McCain’s choice for Treasury Secretary) gained notoriety for saying that the country was “a nation of whiners” that was only in a “mental recession.”

But Gramm’s legacy goes much deeper than that. In 2001, he tucked the Commodity Futures Modernization Act into an unrelated, 11,000 page appropriations bill. That act ensured that the huge market in over-the-counter derivatives stayed unregulated, laying the groundwork for the 2008 financial crisis (and the implosions of AIG and Lehman Brothers). He also believes there should be no minimum wage and has derided the working poor by saying, “we’re the only nation in the world where all our poor people are fat.”

Perry was a student of Gramm’s at Texas A&M, and when Perry became governor “Gramm and his bank pushed a controversial proposal to allow the company to take out insurance polices on teachers and other workers, even though the workers themselves would not benefit.” If Gramm’s support is any indication, Perry’s zeal for financial deregulation will know no bounds.

 

By: Pat Garofalo, Think Progress, August 14, 2011

August 15, 2011 Posted by | Banks, Class Warfare, Conservatives, Corporations, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Jobs, Lobbyists, Middle Class, Politics, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Unemployed, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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