Columns » John Brummett

All hail gray areas


OTwo Huckabee administration insiders met last week with aides to three Democratic members of the state's congressional delegation to urge that the federal government pay $10 million for research on developing and marketing an anthrax-detection compound on which the Huckabee administration insiders hold the patent. That way their shareholders, who are otherwise invested in a potentially lucrative enterprise spraying poultry and other meat products for bacteria, could be spared the expense. This either is a case of Republican businessmen defying any notions of fiscal conservatism by trying to tap the deficit-laden taxpayers for their own potential commercial benefit or it's a logical overture to the federal government, since protection against bioterrorism is the federal government's interest and responsibility. I never claimed to know everything. And at present I am unable answer which this is. If I harbor any leanings that it's the former - self-serving Republican and corporate hypocrisy about fiscal responsibility - "then I've failed in everything I've been trying to explain to you," said Rush Deacon, Huckabee's former head of the Arkansas Development Finance Corporation who now is "chief strategic officer" for Safe Foods Inc. That's a five-year-old international concern based in North Little Rock, the chairman of which is Carl Rosenbaum of Little Rock, a Huckabee appointee to the state Highway Commission. One thing I know: Partisan rhetoric about the vice of government spending and the virtue of private investment is often over-simplified and self-serving, insufficiently attentive to the complexities. At a time of over-heated political and cultural polarization, it's important to reach for the gray areas, where truth and sanity often reside. Safe Foods, in concert with the research of scientists at Kansas State University, developed a spray for use in meat processing operations that kills harmful bacteria but is safe for humans. Deacon currently travels the world trying to sell the product. The company is having some early success, but not so much, he said, that its shareholders aren't still at risk. "They stand a chance to make or lose millions," Deacon said. Meantime, a variation of the same compound can detect and destroy anthrax, which is a matter affecting homeland security. The company has some ideas about how to deploy the compound for that purpose, perhaps through heating and cooling ventilation systems. But it is not sure of the practicality or the potential market, which, Deacon said, probably would be government buildings and installations. Shareholders are not in a position to invest simultaneously in the fledgling spraying enterprise and the needed research on the anthrax detection possibilities, he said. And that was the pitch made last week to aides to U.S. Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor and U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder. Deacon said the company did not presume to receive the $10 million directly. He suggested that the research be conducted in Arkansas, perhaps in higher education or at the National Center for Toxicological Research. He said that if the research produced a viable means of deploying and marketing the anti-anthrax system, his company might be willing to license the patent to another party. The $10 million figure was mentioned as a very rough estimate, Deacon acknowledged. He said he understood the federal budget considerations. He said that if the federal government declined the request, the company would be in no position to pursue the anthrax detection system on its own at least for five years, if at all. Maybe the moral of the story is this: Be careful whom you call a tax-and-spend liberal, for someday it might be thee.

Add a comment