Pythagoras was a little before my time but I count myself a devotee of his theorem: "A square who will be square will see square." I try my utmost to live that way. Give the other guy a square deal and hope to get the same consideration In return.
This basis for human transaction is eroded when one side is deemed less than human in its deliberative and executive processes. Such bloodless qualities are often attributed to corporations by Wall Street occupiers and sundry non-profit intellectuals. In reality the worst offender is government, where decisions are made by people who don't care concerning the disposition of money they don't own.
The idea that people can sue the Federal government to be compensated for its inadequacies is absurd enough; more absurd yet is the right of government lawyers to compromise and settle the case. The announcement was made early this week that the Feds have reached an undisclosed settlement with a widow in Palm Beach to close what Perry Mason might call "The Case of the Tabloid Tablets."
This dates back to the mysterious anthrax letters which were sent to an odd assortment of Senators, reporters and television networks. The first recipients were employees of the National Enquirer, based in a South Florida office complex. They practice a colorful brand of journalism there, breaking away from the traditional all-yellow hue favored by the New York Times.
One of the people who died there from touching the lethal powder was a photo editor named Stevens, whose wife brought suit against the Federal government for failing to exercise adequate supervision over the Army laboratory supply of this toxin. This of course presumes that the anthrax was pilfered from government stock, a contention unproven in its own right.
The case comes replete with absurd twists to match its insane circumstances. The Federal Bureau of Investigation shares the conclusion that the stuff came from those labs and has decided that a guy named Ivins took the powder and sent it -- or sent it and took a powder, as the case may be. They hounded Ivins until he committed suicide and they consider the matter to be… er, settled.
The lawsuit does not want Ivins to be guilty, because he was a legitimate researcher whose access cannot be termed supervisory irresponsibility. So they deposed two of his superiors who claim that he did not know enough nor have enough time to have formulate the powder from materials in the lab.
So if the government is in the wrong, it has a) been negligent in storing dangerous biological weapons, b) had this material stolen by an unidentified thief who may still have more of it available, and c) made an innocent man so miserable by their scrutiny that he ended his life.
Readers of this column will recall that we mocked the FBI handling of the case and we scorned their heavy-handed treatment of Ivins, but it seems unlikely that he was actually innocent. For one thing, since the FBI had already been humiliated for wrongly accusing an earlier suspect, Steven Hatfill, who loudly denounced them and was publicly vindicated, the escape route for a person of clear conscience was already well-marked. This is one case where suicide should equal guilt.
Thus, building a case for government guilt based on an Ivins frame is weak. The fact that his superiors still do not know how he short-circuited the safeguards and found the time merely highlights their own cluelessness. At the end of the day, the question of whether the government was negligent in not guarding the coop or in not watching the fox should be moot.
It is simply silly for you and me and the Chinese government (i.e., the fillers of the Treasury) to be held accountable for the standard of inventory control in the anthrax dispensary. We are the victims in the saga, not the perpetrators. We had neither knowledge nor control and we would certainly have preferred to have competent security in place, as indeed -- perhaps naively -- we thought we had.
Crazier still for some bureaucrat to decide that the government will concede partially by offering a settlement without a court adjudicating the matter. Who are they to forfeit on our behalf?
This all comes back to our initial point. Instead of you and me playing fair with each other, we have a huge conglomerate serving as a soulless proxy for a faceless citizenry. No one feels fettered by civility, so the government tries to grab money from the people and the people try to grab money from the government, and it all devolves into chaos.
Pythagoras is out, replaced by Archimedes. His theorem wins the day: "If there are too many people yelling 'Eureka' in the bathtub, a lot of water is sure to be displaced."
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