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The Ring of Gyges (It’s a post election blog)

Note: This is a post election blog but it has a slow buildup.  It will all make sense by the last paragraph.

Last week, Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) was fined $750 million for failing to clean up a production facility in Puerto Rico.  Here’s a quick summary of how the case went: The plant in PR produces Cidra among other products.  It was cited by the FDA for violations of good manufacturing processes.  The FDA told the plant to clean it up.  GSK sent a woman named Cheryl Eckard, a quality assurance manager, to PR to look into it.  Eckard reported back that the plant was in worse shape than previously thought.  And GSK ignored her.  Repeatedly.  GSK did not address the issues of the PR facility.  I guess what the FDA doesn’t know won’t hurt them.  Eckard got to be a pain in the ass, so GSK fired her.  That’s when Eckard decided to blow the whistle.  As part of the settlement with the government, GSK has to fork over $96 million to Eckard for damages.  She’ll never get another job.

Derek Lowe, who writes the excellent pharmageek blog In the Pipeline has this to say about the suit:

I’ve written about this sort of thing before, and I continue to think that this is a good law. It takes a tremendous amount of nerve to put your own livelihood at stake to report something that’s going wrong (and isn’t being fixed). The incentives need to be there. If we were a perfectly altruistic species, any of us would have no problem sacrificing ourselves immediately for the good of the whole. But the very fact that there’s such bad conduct to take the risk of reporting on tells you that we’re not that sort of species at all.

[…[

I’m not enough of a libertarian to think that the market will take care of all such behavior without an extra possibility of punishment backing it up. I think that we really do need regulatory authorities (although we can argue the details after that statement!), in the same way that we really do need police forces. Both of those groups can (and do) abuse their authority at times, but both of them also provide a much-needed function, human nature being what it is.

And the nature of big organizations being what it is, too. “Never explain by malice what can be explained by stupidity” is a pretty good rule, and in a large company, you can add inertia, backside-covering, careerism, and deciding that a given mess is someone else’s problem. The bigger a company, the more chances there are for these things to happen. Perhaps the possibility of a $750 million dollar fine will help to concentrate attention in such cases – and if not, well, how about a billion? Try for two?

The FDA busts production facilities all of the time but most companies suck it up and fix the problem or shut the facility down, as happened with the makers of the Today Sponge.  Remember Seinfeld’s Elaine Benis who picked her lovers based on whether they were Spongeworthy?  The company that made the sponge couldn’t get rid of bacteria in the manufacturing step and they couldn’t identify and fix the problem so no more sponges.  That’s the way it should work.

So, we see that regulation of what goes into our bodies is working.  And no one would argue that that is a bad thing.

But when it comes to the financial industry that handles our money, it’s a fricking free for all.  What we have is like a never ending season of Deadwood.  There’s very little regulation, no one agency that’s minding the store, financial entities who choose their own regulators, trillions of dollars gambled away, young hotshot assholes who think they are smarter than the rest of us and deserve whopping bonuses, and companies who should be paying massive fines for fraud instead receiving billions of dollars in taxpayer bailout money instead of being shut down for failing to clean up their act.

No one is accountable for any of their actions in the financial industry.  They get away with anything and everything.  Their actions have brought the world economy to the brink of catastrophe and we were spared that by a hasty and ill structured financial bailout package that hasn’t fixed anything.  Not only have the financials learned nothing, but they turn out to be the biggest terrorists we face.  All they have to do is threaten to send the stock market plunging and presidents and legislatures give in to their demands for more chips to gamble on the world economy.

The result of letting the financials off the hook is misery for millions of workers from Ireland and Iceland to America and Greece.  It is simply inexcusable for these people to continue to operate unchecked.

So, before Speaker Boehner decides to slash taxes for many of his buddies with a cent or two for the rest of us and before he decides to make it almost impossible for me and my buddies to retire, the very first thing I expect him to do is hold the financials accountable. The people have spoken.  They want change.  But if we want real change, we can’t put the cart before the horse.  No one should get a tax break while the fox is still guarding the hen house.  I want to see takeovers of failing banks by the FDIC, no matter how big they are.  I want to see banks fined heavily for fraudulent foreclosures.  I want to see a real mortgage program so that people can stay in their houses and pay a reasonable amount to the investors who stupidly got themselves and us into this mess.

No presents until someone pays for the party. Don’t look to taxpayers to pick up the tab or sacrifice even one more cent.

That is what I want Speaker Boehner to concentrate all of his efforts on in the next two years.  Everything else is superfluous.  He’s got a lot on his plate holding the people who got us into this mess responsible for their actions and accountable for the high deficit spending that was necessary to keep us from teetering on the edge of insolvency.  There is no greater responsibility he has to the rest of us than making the financial industry solvent again without any additional sacrifice from us and I expect him to take this job seriously this time and forego stupid Republican slogans and grandstanding.  The last thing I want to see is Speaker Boehner blaming the victims, ordinary American citizens, for this catastrophe.

Human nature has not changed in the more than two thousand years since Plato wrote his story about The Ring of Gyges.  The magical ring was found in a cave by a poor shepherd.  The ring gives its wearer the ability to become invisible.  With that invisibility, the shepherd was able to sneak into the palace, seduce the king’s wife, kill the king and take over the kingdom and all of its riches.  The moral of the story is that morals themselves are not innate.  Society has a role in correcting misbehavior.  If a person can operate invisibly, they can get away with murder.  We shouldn’t assume that anyone can resist the temptation to take advantage of an opportunity if they think they won’t be held accountable.

Speaker Boehner now has the opportunity to shed his partisan skin and show the rest of us that he means to make people accountable.  Or he will be the first one tossed out in 2012.

The Republicans have now been warned.  If they don’t make bankers and the financial industry accountable, they will be held accountable instead.

Austerity without accountability will get you fired.  We’re holding Republicans accountable now.  Don’t test us.

35 Responses

  1. Ezra Klein:

    But if you see the point of politics as actually getting things done, the last two years, for Democrats, have been a stunning, historic success.

    He actually gets paid to write that shit.

  2. Good for Eckard!!! That took guts!
    Too many times the whistleblower ends up in jail, specially if its a government whistleblower.

    ITA about the accountability. The GOP wanted the job of cleaning up Washington — this is their one chance. Even the GOP base is watching them closely. Left & right, everyone is sick of the corruption.

    • Unfortunately, few employees go the route of Eckard and win. Most whistle blowers lose big.

    • I don’t know. These folks will vote for a candidate with an R beside his/her name regardless. Everyone I know who is a Republican absolutely hates Rick Perry. How did he do in last nights election? Wasn’t even close.

  3. Cue Steam:
    Hey, hey, goodbye.

    Too bad the Harry, Nancy and Obama show didn’t do what we wanted but instead decided to tweak the Clintons with the bogus HCR act.

    I guess the Obots were too tired to climb out of the basement and make it to the polls.

  4. Hillary’s job has just become more difficult, but she’s ready:

    Clinton pledges to work with new Republican-led House (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5j-y0L63GEHUSdZ_lv44fDEuMDSWA?docId=CNG.a84306ebdc147800f85911b77a52d16b.61)

    “PORT MORESBY — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed to work with the new Republican-led House of Representatives as she prepared to leave Papua New Guinea on Wednesday during an Asia-Pacific tour.

    [snip]

    “You can build coalitions and you can make your case and you can find allies on issues that are in America’s interests and in the furtherance of our security and our values,” said Clinton, who pointed out that she worked as part of a Senate minority for several years.

    “And I will be working very hard in the weeks and months ahead to get to know new members and new leadership and to work with them on behalf of the United States of America.”

  5. “No one should get a tax break while the fox is still guarding the hen house. I want to see takeovers of failing banks by the FDIC, no matter how big they are. I want to see banks fined heavily for fraudulent foreclosures. I want to see a real mortgage program so that people can stay in their houses and pay a reasonable amount to the investors who stupidly got themselves and us into this mess.”

    Bingo! Until this is resolved, until the Ponzi boys are cut down to size, we will continue to slide down the cliff. The racketeering on Wall St. is tied to everything else: jobs, foreclosures, empty pension accounts, exploding debt. Unfortunately, all of this goes on with the collusion of government and frankly, I don’t see any willingness on either side of the aisle to rein the fraudsters in.

    The 99ers will be running out of benefits by the end of the year. There will be no more extensions. And there are no jobs. A number of states are hiring extra security for unemployment offices. Cost of commodities are already rising and the cost of food and oil is expected to spike in 2011.
    People are not going to roll up and die for the pleasure of the bankers and corporations.

    It’s going to get ugly.

    Btw, Boehner is speaking right now about extending the Bush tax cuts–“the right thing to do at the right time.”

    Oy!

    • Honk!

    • The move to pass an income tax on the rich here in WA state failed. Too many ordinary people still hoping they’ll become rich too? Dunno, but it was disappointing.

      Good to hear about Eckhardt finally winning from that sleazy company, though.

      • Maybe $200,000 income was too low?

      • On the upside though the Colorado amendment failed too.

        Apparently not everyone is anxious to give a fetus the same rights as walking, talking living breathing people from the moment of their inception.

  6. I wouldn’t hold my breath on expecting Spkr. Boehner to pass a mortgage program. The GOP talking point is and has always been the people losing their homes were irresponsible spendthrifts who over purchased.

    • Has the GOP has learned any lessons? Boehner for accountability? Doubtful. It’s still the right wing agenda masquarading as a grassroots Tea Party sea of change, something or another. It’s still about tax cuts for the rich, trickle down economics, and this health care insurance company bailout will stand, They couldn’t care less about securing borders, jobs, or making education affordable. Yea, the message had to be sent but it will be forgotten or watered down.

      I can only hope that by the next opportunity to enact FDR programs, that we have somehow eliminated caucuses, gutted and moved the DNC out of Chicago.

      • I found this article by Newsweek interesting.

        Apparently the CoC is already trying to figure out how to stop Palin. The meme is they don’t think they’ll be able to control her.

        http://www.newsweek.com/2010/11/03/what-the-election-means-for-palin-in-2012.html?GT1=43002

        • And that’s why the grassroots love her. Precisely because the old boys hate her.

          • I’m still trying to figure out though if the media is setting us up. For people who hate her so much they give her an awful lot of airtime. You know the saying about doth protesting too much? That’s kinda how I feel about it. I really get the impression that the media wants the next set up for the cult of personality contests to be two women.

          • I think it’s just an addiction to misogyny and classism.

          • Same with Hillary, and McCain. I think that’s why neither of them got party support in 2008.

      • I never said Boehner will do it. Nevertheless, pressure on him to hold financials accountable should be relentless. He shouldn’t be able to move onto one damn thing before he takes care of financials.
        The GOP wanted this job. They’ve got it.
        Now, make them do it.

        • Agreed. Why, with the level of financial services corruption that is evident today, did we have more financial investigations and prosecutions with Bush than with Obama? Boehner needs to act or he will prove they are all in cahoots with the worst of the financial sector.

  7. Yes, the expectations are now shifting – to a degree. It’s good that you said it.
    I have avoided getting into the Tea Party/ R’s shenanigans until now, because – wrong as they were, they were also out of power.
    They had this solid alibi for the mess of 2009-2011.
    That changes now. And just to be clear – while they get to share in the blame for the stupid things we know they are about to do. it dos not relieve Obama of his accountability.
    He is still in power as well. He is about to throw himself with more abandon in his “bipartisanship”.
    So, we now get to blame both Rs and Ds.
    Important to remember as the 2012 campaign takes off today.

  8. Obama on TV right now…

    “some elections are more fun than others”

    Said completely deadpan…

    I can’t stand this guy.

  9. “He is about to throw himself with more abandon in his “bipartisanship”.”

    He’s on TV right now making his plea for “cooperation” between the parties.

    R.I.P Hope and Change

    2008-2010

    LMAO

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