I have always been drawn to United States history, so I hope it will not be taken amiss if I offer an Independence Day perspective of a British citizen. We are, of course, all heirs of that revolution one way or another across the globe; more so today than ever, perhaps. Immediately speaking there are two striking facets (I just had to correct the typographic error “strifing”): the incredible historic dynamism of the nation created by this event, but also the great amount of thought that the founding fathers went into trying to prevent the re-emergence of the tyranny they had just escaped. Perhaps never has so much thought gone into avoiding “oppressive government,” even if many of the leading participants in the new republic still regarded it as their right to own slaves.
Nearly two-and-a-half centuries on, it is possible to see that powerful interests can buy their way into every aspect of a nation’s life, defying almost every measure that was ever laid out against oppressive government. Just over half a century ago, President Eisenhower as he left office famously warned about the military industrial complex and the domination of intellectual enquiry by commercial interests:
“Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.
“Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.
“The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.
“Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific/ technological elite.”
As a commentary on this, whistleblowing scientist David L. Lewis recently wrote bluntly in the “prologue” to his book Science for Sale: How the US Government Uses Powerful Corporations and Leading Universities to Support Government Policies, Silence Top Scientists, Jeopardize Our Health, and Protect Corporate Profits:
“During my thirty-plus years as a research microbiologist in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) and the University of Georgia, I experienced the far-reaching influence of corrupt special interests firsthand. As this book will describe, my dealings with civil servants, corporate managers, elected officials, and other scientists expose the ease – and disturbing regularity – with which a small group , motivated by profit or personal advancement, can completely hijack important areas of research science at even our most trusted institutions”.
In truth, the problem of the takeover of government agencies was not new: half a century before Eisenhower’s address, Woodrow Wilson in presidential election speeches was warning:
“If the government is to tell big business men how to run their business, then don’t you see that big business men have to get closer to the government even than they are now? Don’t you see that they must capture the government, in order not to be restrained too much by it? Must capture the government? They have already captured it. Are you going to invite those inside to stay? They don’t have to get there. They are there.”
But at least President Wilson could still talk about “big business men.” Coupled with the issue of the invasion of institutions and government by commercial/industrial interest is the lack of accountability and liability – notably acute in the field of vaccines In a valuable article of January 1999 veteran economist John Kenneth Galbraith highlighted the twin problems of the influence of powerful lobbies in government and the lack of liability for corporate fraud or failure, an insight that apart from anything else foreshadowed the banking collapse of 2008:
“The fraud also conceals a major change in the role of money in the modern economy. Money, we once agreed, gave the owner, the capitalist, the controlling power in the enterprise. So it still does in small businesses. But in all large firms the decisive power now lies with a bureaucracy that controls, but does not own, the requisite capital. This bureaucracy is what the business schools teach their students to navigate, and it is where their graduates go. But bureaucratic motivation and power are outside the central subject of economics. We have corporate management, but we do not study its internal dynamics or explain why certain behaviors are rewarded with money and power. These omissions are another manifestation of fraud. Perhaps it is not entirely innocent. It evades the often unpleasant facts of bureaucratic structure, internal competition, personal advancement, and much else…”
The lack of accountability by “business bureaucrats” is compounded by their capture of the government bureaucracy:
“A more comprehensive fraud dominates scholarly economic and political thought. That is the presumption of a market economy separate from the state. Most economists concede a stabilizing role to the state, even those who urgently seek an escape from reality by assigning a masterful and benign role to Alan Greenspan and the central bank. And all but the most doctrinaire accept the need for regulation and legal restraint by the state. But few economists take note of the cooptation by private enterprise of what are commonly deemed to be functions of the state. This is hidden by the everyday reference to the public and private sectors, one of our clearest examples of innocent fraud.”
If we for example consider the pharmaceutical companies today, even when companies become liable for huge fines, no individual ever seems to “carry the can” – even to point of losing their job, let alone facing criminal charges: it is simply at best a calculated risk for shareholders. With vaccines, since 1986 and Vaccine Injury Act the problem has become even worse, since corporations themselves face no effective liability and enjoy a substantially captive and ever-growing mandated market for their products, with zero financial incentive to ensure their safety.
There are further troubling aspects to this: generally speaking the government bureaucracy and the medical profession are even less frank about the risks of the products than the manufacturers. They enjoy a revolving-door relationship with the manufacturers, notably when Centers for Disease Control director Julie Gerberding left her post to become head of Merck’s vaccine division in the space of less than a year. The CDC is itself affiliated with the pharmaceutical manufacturers through nonprofit organizations such as the CDC Foundation and Task Force for Global Health. The debate about autism and vaccines apart from anything else may well have been influenced by the fact that the most prominent autism charity, Autism Speaks, was endowed at its inception by CDC Foundation board member emeritus and billionaire Bernie Marcus to the tune of $25 million. Marcus, founder of DIY empire Home Depot, also stated in an interview in 2006:
“The worst thing I could imagine is to be the CEO of a pharmaceutical company today. I can’t think of an industry that has done more to alleviate suffering and improve the human condition than pharmaceuticals. Yet the industry is under a withering assault from plaintiffs’ lawyers and is depicted by some in the media as a pariah. I don’t think that Jonas Salk could have developed the polio vaccine in today’s legal environment.”
This was a remarkable claim when pharmaceutical domination of the media was at its financial peak (see below) and effective litigation over vaccine damage had not been possible for 20 years.
The allegedly independent Institute of Medicine 2004 review of vaccine safety only slightly masked a complex of conflicted and corrupt relationships. Not only did it turn out that the CDC had instructed the IOM not to find anything, but the IOM commissioned flawed and fraudulent studies in themselves controlled by the CDC by various means, notoriously studies coordinated by Danish indicted financial fraudster Poul Thorsen. None of these studies has ever been retracted, including a British study that made blatantly false claims about mercury exposure in the developing world in order to endorse the World Health Organization vaccine schedule. They were recently cited again (without irony) before Congress by Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee chairman Thomas Insel not only as if they were in any way valid, but as if they were new science.
On top of this we need to consider the initiative of the Food and Drugs Administration, under President Clinton in 1997, to substantially deregulate direct-to-the-consumer pharmaceutical advertising – enabling the industry at stroke to buy out the media. According to one source pharmaceutical advertising rose from $700 million in 1996 to $5.41 billion in 2006. This may have tailed off to about $4.5 billion from 2008-2010, but the source of revenue would have been ever more critical to an ailing industry. The result of a government agency initiative – never even apparently discussed at a democratic level – was to lead either the exclusion of dissenting voices or organized hate campaigns against anyone who dares speak out of turn, notably Andrew Wakefield, Jenny McCarthy and Katie Couric.
Meanwhile, the industry can buy or isolate virtually every politician out of the petty cash.
Happy Independence Day everybody, Happy American Revolution!