The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 11, 2009; 10:18 AM
WASHINGTON — Internal e-mails indicate the owner of a peanut company urged his workers to ship tainted products after receiving test results identifying salmonella.
The company e-mails obtained by a House committee show Peanut Corp. of America owner Stewart Parnell ordered the shipments tainted with the bacteria because he was worried about lost sales.
Parnell was ordered to appear before Congress today to discuss the outbreak that has led to 600 illnesses and eight deaths blamed on his Georgia plant.
Predictably, Parnell pleaded the 5th.
Look, I know one of the crucial things that distinguishes us from animals is the rule of law, at least in ostensibly democratic nations. Arguably the paramount condition, aside from religion, that prevents us from degenerating into savages is the safety accorded all individuals by due process (unless, of course, you are a suspected terrorist, but that is another story). And that is, without question, an irrefutable and cherished signal of progress for us as human beings.
However. What about the people amongst us who already act like savages? The people who understand the law, who benefit and profit from the law, and nevertheless use their positions of privilege to undercut the law? If this mendacity occurred in a vacuum, it would almost be excusable (or at least negligible); but when other people are affected, it’s unconscionable. And other people are always affected. We’re not talking about the Wall Street bookies who helped run their clients (and, in some welcome cases, themselves) into the financial tar pit, because at various levels, the people who got hoodwinked were accomplices in the crime. At the very least, they condoned or accepted that they were, in effect, gambling their assets. Greed begets greed, and when comeuppance comes, it’s hard to pity those crying the loudest about how the system screwed them. The system only becomes sordid for these types of folks once it stops working to their advantage.
So how about it? What about these fuckers, for whom accountability usually amounts to a forfeit of only the obscene profits that have been accrued, above and beyond their already exorbitant annual salaries? The white collar criminals for whom bankruptcy and jail time are about as likely as meaningful health care reform. Think Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Dennis Kozlowski, Mark Swartz, Bernie Ebbers, et cetera.
But the real bottom of this barrel are the bosses who knowingly push harmful policies, or products, purely for profit. Even pointing these people out seems hysterical, until you read the irrefutable (and sickening) evidence of e-mails like the ones we see from Stewart Parnell. Even if he is appropriately sued for every penny he has; even if he spends the rest of his life behind bars (as he should), what do you tell the eight people who are dead because of his decisions? (Again, we’re not talking about incompetence or the always questionable morality of market-driven business acumens; at least in those instances, people can–however spuriously–claim they were unaware of the consequences their actions would produce. Here, we’re talking about black and white degeneracy: this is a rich man who knew his product might seriously harm or kill people, and sent out his product, anway, for the sake of becoming richer. That’s it.) Our outrage is acceptable, even imperative. But what does a civilized society do to reprobates of this sort? How to simultaneously punish and make an example to help prevent imitation of this behavior? Obviously if we start cutting off hands of thieves we immediately enter totalitarian territory. We certainly should not devolve and imitate the worst brutalities of dictatorships simply to instill fear. But what we currently have is obviously not doing the trick. So, what do we do to shame the types of people who have no shame? The types of people who thrive principally because they have no shame? How about introducing shame back into the equation? It’s been suggested, in manners both cynical and serious, to resuscitate the stocks. Being drawn and quartered is, perhaps, a bit too barbaric, but what about tarring and feathering? Would anyone protest to see “Stu” Parnell covered in hot tar? Or better yet, how about peanut butter? Give him a PB&J with his own tainted brand, strap him on a donkey and parade his freshly feathered ass all around town. All the way to prison. Wait, perhaps that is a tad too cruel. No need to involve an innocent donkey.