Things are broken

Posted on Tuesday 3 November 2009

I recently wrote a post on E. Coli outbreaks. One thing I did not mention in that story is how the federal government, in the form of the Food and Drug Administration, really isn’t suited to dealing with businesses other than large scale agricorps.

For instance, there is a regulation requiring that all meat processing facilities have a restroom set aside for the use of the FDA inspectors. This is probably fine if the meat processing plant is a corporate one that processes thousands of cattle a day and takes up a enormous building. However, how feasible is that requirement for a small family-owned meat processing operation that only processes a few dozen cattle a week?

The FDA has many standards for the facilities and procedures required of meat processors and other agricultural support businesses, but doesn’t set a standard for how much bacteria is “allowed”. Wouldn’t it make far more sense to let each business setup their facilities to best meet a standard of how much bacteria is allowed, rather than dictating processes and requirements that can often be costly and have little effect on the cleanliness of the meat processing operation or the processed meat itself.

Unfortunately, stupidity and over-regulation seem to be par for the course. Government spends a lot of time trying to protect us from ourselves, and in the process creates far more problems than it solves. This applies to much of modern government, which has gone from being something that protected and served society, to something that no longer serves its original purpose.

For example, there was a recent news story about a 17-year old Eagle Scout who was suspended for 20 days for having a pocket knife locked inside his car on school grounds. This is a pocket knife with a two-inch long blade—it is a tool—not a weapon, and certainly not a danger of being wielded as a weapon in an argument in the heat of the moment if it is locked in a car in the parking lot.

When I was in elementary, middle and high school, carrying a knife to school was something I did as a regular habit. I too was a Boy Scout and found it useful and convenient to have a Swiss Army Knife with me most of the time. To this day, I generally have a pocket knife on me most days. Yet, there were no incidents of a knife being used as a weapon in a fight back then. Many of my friends carried knives as well. They were tools, not weapons.

Look at Department of Homeland Security. It was setup in response to the War on Terror and in many ways it has become a bloated and ineffective government bureaucracy. Recent tests have shown that the TSA, a division under DHS, is mostly ineffective at stopping “terrorists” from getting things onto planes. In one of the more recent tests, the Red Team, or “bad guys”, were able to get 95% of the bombs, weapons, etc. aboard the planes. Of course, it seems to me that most of the government bureaucrats are more interested in keeping their cushy jobs than in actually doing the work they were hired to do.

Modern media isn’t helping the situation any either—since most modern journalism seems to consist of reporting the surface story, rather than unearthing the truth beneath what is easily seen. The watchdog function of the press seems to have dropped by the wayside over the past decade.

Both government and media need to be massively overhauled as I see it.

Given modern communications, video conferencing, e-mail, and such, there really is no need for Congress to be centrally located any longer. While having the entire Congress was a very sensible idea in the days of horse-and-buggy, where travel required days or weeks, and there was no instantaneous communication across the country, that is clearly no longer the case.

Returning Congress to the districts they serve in would have many major benefits. The primary benefit I see is that the Congressmen would be closer to the people who elected them and that they are supposed to serve. I think Congressmen who lived and worked in the states that elected them would be a bit more attentive to the real needs of their states.

Another major benefit is that de-centralizing the Congress would greatly dilute the influence of corporations and lobbyists. It is pretty cost-effective for a corporation or lobbyist organization to work Capitol Hill, since it concentrates all of the people that they may need to contact or influence. If these same people were spread out over the 50 states, it suddenly becomes much more difficult and expensive to spread influence around. I can’t see this as being anything but positive.

The media is also in need of overhaul, but I think this is far more likely to occur. Modern technology has increased the effective reach and scope of the average person. If the media doesn’t adapt to the changes wrought by modern technology, it is very likely that they will go the way of the dinosaur. The business models and practices of the old-paper based media are less and less relevant each day, and new business models and practices will have to be developed. As the technology becomes lower-cost and more widespread, the changes in the media will become even more critical.

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