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The following op-ed was written by GAP Nuclear Oversight Director Tom Carpenter.
Late last month, the U.S. Department of Energy, along with the EPA and Washington state, hosted the annual "State of the Site" meeting on Hanford, in Seattle.
To those of us who are frequent attendees at such events, this one bore a depressing similarity to many of the past meetings called for a similar purpose -- to review the state of the Hanford nuclear site's efforts to clean up the largest and most expensive toxic mess in the United States.
Hanford opened in 1942 to produce, on an industrial scale, the plutonium used in the first nuclear explosion in the Nevada desert in 1945 -- followed shortly by the use of the plutonium bomb on Nagasaki, Japan.
More than 40 years later, Hanford had opened and closed nine nuclear production reactors, five plutonium reprocessing facilities and numerous laboratory and support facilities, all in support of the Cold War mission to create America's nuclear arsenal.
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Written by GAP Executive Director Mark Cohen. Versions of this op-ed also appeared in: The Roanoke Times (VA), Springfield News-Leader (IL), KC Community News (KS), Mountain Mail Newspaper (CO), Athens Messenger (OH), Daily Republican Register (IL), Portsmouth News Herald (NH), Fall River Herald News (MA), Hugo Daily News (OK), Seacoast Online (ME), and Aventura News (FL)
Congress recently missed an opportunity to make meaningful changes in the way drug-makers peddle their often dangerous products. Wooed or intimidated by pharmaceutical corporations’ lobbying might, the Senate and House passed an FDA reauthorization bill that caters to the marketing interests of drug manufacturers and broadcasters, virtually ignoring public safety. Fortunately, not all courts are as willing as Congress to turn a blind eye to the distorting impact of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising.
The issue facing state Supreme Court justices this summer in West Virginia v. Johnson & Johnson was whether drug manufacturers are subject to the same duty as other manufacturers to warn consumers about their product risks. The traditional view was that they were not. Courts reasoned that prescription drugs are unique because they are taken at the direction of a “learned intermediary,” a licensed physician. The manufacturer need only inform physicians of risks; drug-makers have no legal obligation to warn the patient whatsoever.
But as the West Virginia Supreme Court concluded – and New Jersey’s highest court before it – this doctrine is an anachronism, borne of a completely different epoch in American medicine. In a 1948 wrongful death suit, the trial court noted that the manufacturer never advertised or made any representations about the product to the patient. How then could it be liable? The drug’s use was solely the choice of a doctor – the “learned intermediary.”
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by GAP President Louis Clark
In recent years, we have learned about a number of corporate horror stories. A major toy company had sold and widely distributed toys manufactured in China with lead-tainted paint. A pharmaceutical company had manufactured a vaccine for babies with a compromised quality assurance program. Government contractors employed in Iraq to provide infrastructure were instead padding their profits and cutting corners while the buildings they constructed crumbled.
In each instance, scores of employees knew about the problems but for whatever reason did nothing to end the faulty practices. It is no wonder that so many of those in the know about wrongdoing chose job security over courage. No one should rely on public anti-corruption assurances from corporate public relations operatives until effective systems are in place so that everyday workers who spot potential disasters in the making will report them – putting public health and other significant concerns above corporate profits. Sadly, this right to blow the whistle, free of retaliation and harassment, has steadily eroded over the last five years.
Following a wave of massive corporate fraud, exemplified by the Enron and WorldCom scandals, Congress passed the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act. Our legislators were reacting to the revelations of a tiny handful of brave whistleblowers who exposed the massive corruption – a few out of hundreds and hundreds who were aware of the wrongdoing. Others did not come forward with incriminating information, either out of fear or the knowledge that whistleblowing is futile in a culture where fear of reprisal is so pervasive. To address this need, within SOX Congress included provisions that would hopefully ensure that whistleblowers within publicly traded companies would no longer remain defenseless.
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This editorial was written by GAP Legal Director Tom Devine and GAP Legislative Assistant Adam Miles.
July’s hearing on the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) leads us to this conclusion: Special Counsel Scott Bloch is hopelessly over his head in his job to defend the federal civil service merit system. To restore legitimacy for the office, he must resign or be removed by the president for cause.
Bloch’s mission is to shield federal employees from retaliation and the civil service from political interference. But his mismanagement casts a cloud over OSC career staff members, who remain effective when allowed to do their jobs.
Productivity has plummeted, including a drop in help for whistleblowers. According to OSC’s own reports, the number of “favorable actions” OSC obtained for whistleblowers, its primary constituency, fell from 98 in fiscal 2002 — the last full year of the previous special counsel — to 40 in fiscal 2006. The figure of 40 is an inflated one considering that OSC broadened its definition of favorable actions in 2005.
The House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal work force met July 12 on the agency’s reauthorization. But the hearing degenerated when Bloch was confronted with charges of authorizing the leak of a draft OSC report to the media.
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Written by GAP Food & Drug Safety Director Jacqueline Ostfeld. Versions of this op-ed have also appeared in the St. Petersburg Times, Baltimore Sun, Cincinnati Post, News & Observer (NC), China Post (Taiwan), Providence Journal (RI), Salt Lake City Tribune, Madison Capital Times (WI), Dayton Beach News Journal (FL), Greensboro News & Record, The Ledger (FL), Asheville Citizen Times (NC), Eugene Register Guard (OR), Tallahassee Democrat, Fargo Forum (ND), Topeka Capital Journal (KA), Virginia Free Lance Star, Traverse City Record Eagle (MI), The Argus (CA), Waterville Morning Sentinel, Vail Daily News (CO), Keene Sentinel (ME), Montana Standard, Key West Citizen, East Texas Review, Amsterdam Recorder (NY), Yankton Press and Dakotan (SD), Central Kentucky News Journal, Aurora Sentinel (CO), and Daily Sun News (WA).
In the shadow of the Chinese import scare, US consumers have won a victory. The retail giant Safeway, responding to pressure by public interest advocates and members of Congress, last week pulled carbon monoxide (CO) treated meat from its shelves.
Carbon monoxide in meat? Unbelievably, in 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave their blessing to a number of large meat packers (including Tyson, Hormel and Cargill Foods) to inject CO in their case-ready meat products. It is unlikely that CO injections themselves present a poison risk. Regardless of this, they pose a public health and consumer fraud hazard.
Treating packaged meat with CO extends its shelf-life by keeping it red long after it begins to spoil. In fact, gassed meat holds its color for upwards of one year, whereas CO-free packaged meat typically starts to turn after just 10 to 12 days on the shelf. It’s easy to see why the meat industry likes CO: Gassed meat could save retailers $1 billion annually in lost sales resulting from that finicky consumer aversion to browning meat.
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Written by GAP Food and Drug Safety Director Mark Cohen
Dan Troy laments the development of what he terms “a whistleblower culture” at FDA (FDA Webview, 4/12). The former chief counsel of the agency made this remark at the recent annual conference of the Food and Drug Law Institute. There is too much irony here: Ask an FDA scientist or medical officer what drove them to blow the whistle and they are apt to cite the anti-regulatory culture fashioned by this very same Dan Troy.
Troy was appointed chief counsel by George W. Bush in 2001, the first Bush appointee to the agency. He apparently had earned his stripes by aggressive advocacy on behalf of Pfizer while in private legal practice.
Troy was the FDA chief counsel who led the First Amendment charge against regulating misleading drug advertising. He was the FDA chief counsel who fished around for opportunities to intervene in state court suits on behalf of drug and device manufacturers against injured plaintiffs. He was the FDA chief counsel who, irony of ironies, wrote Retroactive Legislation, arguing that laws should only apply prospectively. Yet it is Troy’s Rule at FDA preempting prescription drug injury suits from state court — a rule issued after most Vioxx personal injury suits were filed — that now threatens to cause the retroactive dismissal of thousands of Vioxx injury claims.
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Written by GAP Nuclear Oversight Director Tom Carpenter and Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar Robert Alvarez. Note: A version of this op-ed also appeared in the Keene Sentinel (N.H.).
President George W. Bush and his energy secretary, Samuel Bodman, have recently intensified their lobbying to revive “nuclear recycling” through a program they call the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, or GNEP.
This is hardly a new idea. In 1996, the National Academy of Sciences reported on the feasibility of recycling nuclear fuel. It was an intriguing idea because of its promise to reduce the amount of waste that had to be buried, where it could conceivably seep into drinking water at some point in its multimillion-year-long half-lives. But the Academy's conclusion was unequivocal–- the idea was supremely impractical. It would cost up to $500 billion in 1996 dollars and take 150 years to accomplish the transmutation of dangerous long-lived radioactive toxins.
Now the Bush administration is actively promoting GNEP as a sweeping panacea –- to supply virtually limitless energy to emerging economies, to "reduce the number of required...waste depositories to one for the remainder of this century" and to "enhance energy security, while promoting non-proliferation." The National Academy of Sciences’ findings have been swept aside, even though the idea is as costly and technologically unfeasible as it was in the 1990s.
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Written by GAP International Reform Director Beatrice Edwards and GAP Communications Director Dylan Blaylock.
Paul Wolfowitz's resignation as president of the World Bank will mean little if that institution's true underlying flaw is not addressed. The real problem is the lack of whistleblower protections for bank employees and the weak internal justice system that prevails.
The first indication that Mr. Wolfowitz had directed the vice president for human resources at the bank to effect salary increases and promotions for his companion in violation of bank rules, and then conceal them, surfaced more than a year ago. The Department of Institutional Integrity, which received the initial disclosure, operates under a Wolfowitz appointee who did nothing, and the ethics committee of the bank's board was prohibited from taking direct action in personnel decisions.
Instead, action had to be taken by anonymous whistleblowers - at great personal risk. Although a whistleblower originally disclosed the corruption in January 2006, Mr. Wolfowitz was not obliged to resign until last week. When they determined that internal bank information was reaching outside organizations and the press, Mr. Wolfowitz, the Department of Institutional Integrity and the bank's general counsel began an investigation to identify and punish the leakers.
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This op-ed was written by GAP President Louis Clark. A version of it also appeared in Radio Left.
In 2002, while commiserating about government scandals, President George Bush reportedly joked about stringing whistleblowers up “by the thumbs. The same way we do with prisoners in Guantanamo!"
Ironically, a few years later Bush presided over military forces in Iraq that essentially tortured two U.S. citizens who had blown the whistle on their employer, who was illegally dealing arms and laundering money. The White House’s decision to suspend the legal right of individuals to challenge their captivity resulted in one whistleblower enduring 97 days of inhumane treatment at the hands of U.S. military personnel within an Iraqi military prison.
The whistleblower, Donald Vance, is a 29-year-old veteran. Until his ordeal began, he had supported the war in Iraq. In fact, he voted twice for Bush. His compatriot, Norman Ertel, is also a veteran. He too supported the Iraqi War effort.
While working in Iraq as employees of Shield Group Security, Vance and Ertel noticed that company officials were holding meetings with seemingly unsavory characters. They suspected that their bosses were engaged in illegal arms dealing and contacted the FBI with their concerns. They became unpaid FBI informants, sending reports about a variety of activities. They were told to phone the Bureau the next time that they suspected that a cache of arms was actually present at the worksite. Soon after, Vance and Ertel were illegally held by the company. The U.S. armed forces raided, ostensibly rescuing the men.
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Written by GAP Legislative Representative Adam Miles. Note: A version of this op-ed also appeared in the following outlets: Salem Statesman-Journal (OR), The Courier (OH).
When asked why outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed hospital were willing to speak so candidly to the press about indefensible conditions, the reporter who broke the story responded simply, “Nobody listened to them for years.”
This is typical of any scandal involving a large, unresponsive bureaucracy. The neglect and mistreatment should have been addressed years ago, when more and more wounded began returning from Iraq. No one listened to the problems, or worse, there was no one for the troops to safely tell. So the problems lingered and worsened with time.
This lack of adequate responsibility and accountability is becoming a tragic habit. A litany of pre-9/11 warnings from national security whistleblowers was ignored, as were reports questioning levee stability in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina.
Our soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen deserve a communications structure in which warnings spark responses, responses that can prevent disasters. That means Congress must change the 1988 Military Whistleblower Protection Act (MWPA) into a law that realistically helps whistleblowers.