succumbing to peer pressure

Monday, July 12, 2004

Lots o' musings from work

First, from Atrios (posted by Athenae)
The entire right wing of the Republican party has done absolutely nothing with all the power they have except push the stupidest, meanest parts of their platform. In their public utterances they've done nothing but pule and whine and bitch that Howard Dean was angry, Michael Moore was fat, and Whoopi Goldberg said they sucked. They've hated on gays and they've complained about the Supreme Court and they've moaned about the media that cheerleaded them into Iraq being "too liberal."

Imagine the Democrats with undisputed control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency. Imagine what could have been done with that power. We could have said we were going to Mars, and actually done it. We could have said we were going to cure cancer, and gone at it with all our power and might. We could have said we were going to eliminate the crushing poverty that makes street gangs a scourge in our cities that terrorists can only dream of. We could have lifted this country up in a way that would have inspired the world. We're capable of that.

I don't buy this argument, primarily because I think it's as rhetorically weak and prejudiced as the "women should be in more positions of power because they are more loving and compassionate and the world would be more peaceful with more women in power" argument. Humans are fallible and weak and greedy and stupid. All humans, of all genders and races and classes and professions and political parties, are those things at one time or another. Of course, the eternal optimist and idealist in me has to believe that they are all also compassionate and thoughtful and courageous, at one time or another. But, rhetorical weakness or not, this raises an interesting question - what have the ruling Republicans been doing with their "power" and why have they made various decisions regarding what to do with said "power"? Yes yes, government always moves slowly, and there are members of Congress who have been stymieing various goals of this administration. But in truth, the Republicans do currently control a vast portion of our government, and have for the past four years. So why have they chosen to exert that control over (relatively) "small-time" issues like gay marriage rights and indecency laws? I'm not a Republican, and never have been, so I can't provide any sort of insight into what might be considered a Big Issue in a Republican platform, but surely there must be some? Why not use this power and control to create whatever a Republican might consider a more ideal country? I realize I should be careful what I wish for, and an ideal country for a Republican might very well seem like hell to me. And I suppose arguments could be made that they did try (and succeeded) to reduce access to reproductive healthcare and they did cut taxes…but are these really the issues that keep Republicans awake at night? Are these the things that motivated them to go into politics in the first place? It really does seem that this President and Congress have focused on the more negative and fringe issues within their party's platform. So I find myself once again wondering why Republicans continue to offer their support? Or, as my father asked when I was home last weekend, why do people continue to vote against their own best interests?

Also, this lengthy excerpt from "And the Band Played On" (because, yes, I'm obsessed, and you're all going to hear about it frequently until I finally finish reading the thing):

The discovery of cyanide in Tylenol capsules ocurred in those same weeks of October 1982. The existence of the poisoned capsules, all found in the Chicago area, was first reported on October 1. The New York Times wrote a story on the Tylenol scare every day for the entire month of October and produced twenty-three more pieces in the two months after that. Four of these stories appeared on the front page. The poisoning received comparable coverage in media across the country, inspiring an immense government effort. Within days of the discovery of what proved to be the only cyanide-laced capsules, the Food and Drug Administration issued orders removing the drug from store shelves across the country. Federal, state, and local authorities were immediately on hand to coordinate efforts in states thousands of miles from where the tampered boxes appeared. No action was too extreme and no expense too great, they insisted, to save lives.

Investigators poured into Chicago to crack the mustery. More than 100 state, federal, and local agents worked the Illinois end of the case alone, filling twenty-six volumes with 11,500 pages of probe reports. The Food and Drug Administration has more than 1,100 employees testing 1.5 million similar capsules for evidence of poisoning, and chasing down every faint possibility of a victim of the new terror, according to the breathless news reports of the time. Tylenol's parent company, Johnson & Johnson, estimated spending $100 million in the effort. Within five weeks, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued new regulations on tamper-resistant packaging to avert repetition of such a tragedy.

In the end, the millions of dollars for CDC Tylenol investigations yielded little beyond the probability that some lone crackpot had tampered with a few boxes of the pain reliever. No more cases of poisoning occurred beyond the first handful reported in early October. Yet the crisis showed how the government could spring into action, issue warnings, change regulations, and spend money, lots of money, when they thought the lives of Americans were at stake.

Altogether, seven people died from the cyanide-laced capsules; one other man in Yuba City, California, got sick, but it turned out he was faking it so he could collect damages from Johnson & Johnson.

By comparison, 634 Americans had been stricken with AIDS by October 5, 1982. Of these, 260 were dead. There was no rush to spend money, mobilize public health officials, or issue regulations that might save lives.

The institution that is supposed to be the public's watchdog, the news media, had gasped a collective yawn over the story of dead and dying homosexuals. In New York City, where half of the nation's AIDS cases resided, The New York Times had written only three stories about the epidemic in 1981 and three more stories in all of 1982. None made the front page. Indeed, one could have lived in New York, or in most of the United States for that matter, and not even have been aware from the daily newspapers that an epidemic was happening, even while government doctors themselves were predicting that the scourge would wipe out the lives of tens of thousands.

Which makes me wonder, as often as we lament the failure of our "watchdog" industry, with the exception of a few high-profile cases (Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, etc.), just how often does our public media live up to our expectations?

And a few more numbers (also from AtBPO):
Kraus's only measure of spending had come with a Congressional research Service report. The report found that in 1982, the National Institutes of Health's research on toxic shock syndrome, a mystery that had by then been solved, amounted to $36,100 per death. NIH Legionnaire's spending in the most recent fiscal year amounted to $34,841 per death. By contrast, the health institute had spent about $3,225 per AIDS death in fiscal 1981 and $8,991 in fiscal 1982.

And lastly, on a much happier and lighter note, Mark and Carrie will be here in 25 days! They are tremendously awesome and are flying down to Atlanta to visit me. :-)


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