Tuesday, July 13, 2010

One Of These Is Just Like The Other

Somebody must be spiking the NY Times's tea: for two days running, The Gray Lady has been taking some hard looks at how unrestrained capitalism operates these days. Today was even a two-fer: GlaxoSmithKline and BP were both examined in terms of their corporate mentality when it comes to safety.

First, a lengthy article which examines BP's history of calamitous failures caused by more attention being paid to the bottom line than to reducing risks.

Instead, the rig, which was supposed to produce about 20 percent of the gulf’s oil output, became a symbol of BP’s hubris. A valve installed backward had caused the vessel to flood during the hurricane, jeopardizing the project before any oil had even been pumped. Other problems, discovered later, included a welding job so shoddy that it left underwater pipelines brittle and full of cracks. ...

The problems at Thunder Horse were not an anomaly, but a warning that BP was taking too many risks and cutting corners in pursuit of growth and profits, according to analysts, competitors and former employees. Despite a catalog of crises and near misses in recent years, BP has been chronically unable or unwilling to learn from its mistakes, an examination of its record shows.

Second, an article which looks at when GlaxoSmithKline, then known as SmithKlineBeecham, learned of the increased risk of heart attacks in patients taking the new glucose-lowering drug Avandia:

In the fall of 1999, the drug giant SmithKline Beecham secretly began a study to find out if its diabetes medicine, Avandia, was safer for the heart than a competing pill, Actos, made by Takeda.

Avandia’s success was crucial to SmithKline, whose labs were otherwise all but barren of new products. But the study’s results, completed that same year, were disastrous. Not only was Avandia no better than Actos, but the study also provided clear signs that it was riskier to the heart.

But instead of publishing the results, the company spent the next 11 years trying to cover them up, according to documents recently obtained by The New York Times. The company did not post the results on its Web site or submit them to federal drug regulators, as is required in most cases by law.

The business of business is business. The business of government, however, is supposed to be governance, including the protection of citizens from the dangerous depredations of business. It does this by regulating certain aspects of business and depends on the regulators not being in bed with the very people they are supposed to be keeping an eye on. That has clearly not been the case in the US for decades.

If the corporations are going to be such lousy citizens, then they need to be punished by the government for their criminal behavior. And if the government as currently constituted is unwilling to do the job, then we need to elect one which will.

As to the NY Times, both articles constitute what I consider to be good, solid journalism, which is the job of a free press and what the citizenry requires. At least in these two instances, someone is getting it right.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very good column Diane. Your next to last two paragraphs summarize the job of modern government very well and succinctly. The last paragraph rightly praises the job done by the reporters and the NY Times. This is a column I may copy for reference. (I will give it proper attribution if I do use it, even in private writings.) PurpleGirl

6:47 AM  

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