Jim Hightower

The Public In Public Safety

The report came from the official inspector in March 2008, and its conclusion was unequivocal: “The overall food safety level of this facility,” he wrote, “was considered to be: SUPERIOR.”

The facility was the Peanut Corp. of America’s processing plant in Georgia. That’s the one that shipped salmonella-contaminated products all across America last year-killing nine people and sickening more than 22,000.

How could the inspector have been so disastrously wrong about a plant that was alive with deadly salmonella? Well, the inspection system itself is grossly flawed. In this case, corporate officials were notified that the inspector would be coming. He was allowed only one day to check a plant that handles millions of pounds of peanuts a month. This inspector’s expertise was in fresh produce, not goobers-he didn’t even know that salmonella could thrive in peanuts. Besides, he was not required to test for salmonella.

Sheesh! Is this the best we can expect from our government’s food safety system? Uh … well, that’s another problem. The inspector doesn’t work for the public. He works for a private food-safety audit firm. He gets his inspection gigs by soliciting food processors directly, and the processors pay his salary. Cozy, no?

This is no isolated case. More than 200 companies provide safety audits for processors of everything from meat to veggies. Because Washington has carelessly pushed privatization policies and slashed federal inspection budgets, these for-profit companies now perform the bulk of America’s food-safety inspections-essentially letting the processors buy a phony seal of approval.

Come on Congress, come on Obama-let’s put the “public” back in public safety. Pronto.

Bailing Out Bankers

At least one Wall Street investment house is stepping up to help some of the people who’ve been squeezed by the financial crisis that Wall Street caused.

The Goldman Sachs Group-once considered the “star of the Street” before it crashed in a pile of greed and had to be salvaged by a multibillion-dollar bailout from you and me-is this angel of mercy. It has announced a loan program to assist folks who lost money because of their investments with Goldman. What an altruistic gesture! Before we give the bank a gold star, let’s note that regular folks do not qualify. For example, maybe you lost a chunk of your retirement money because of the firm’s collapse. Sorry, no loan for you.

This beneficent program is reserved for Goldman’s own senior bankers! These special ones were paid millions of dollars in the golden years, and they invested wads of that cash in a couple of the bank’s elite investment pools. One of the perks of being a high-ranking Goldman Sachs-er was that you got access to the funds.

But-Oh, cruel fate!-even these have plummeted in value, and many of the bank’s 100 top executives are reported to be down to their last $5 million. Given their gilded lifestyles, this leaves them scrambling to meet payments. One example of their cash crunch is that they have to pay taxes on fat bonuses paid early last year. Back then, they were riding high, and they thought the party would never end, so they spent their bonus money on assorted toys. That means they don’t have enough money today to cover their tax obligations.

I know how bad you must feel for them, but not to worry, for Goldman is galloping to their rescue with loans ranging up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. See, Wall Street takes care of its own-even if they have to use our bailout dollars to do it.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com. His latest book, with Susan DeMarco, is Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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