Ricin rent-seeking

Posted in Bioterrorism, Ricin Kooks, Shoeshine at 12:51 pm by George Smith

Updated, just in: A kook, but not the ricin kook:

OXFORD, Miss. — Marshals Service: Suspect in ricin letters case has been released from jail in Miss.

Rent-seeking behavior is the abandonment of providing a good product or service to customers (or one of even slightly minor social benefit) for the sole pursuit of wealth through private sector/government collusion.

It is practiced by corporations as well as individuals. And it is rife in the national security megaplex.

An article on the science journal Nature’s website on the 18th is the very illustration of it.

Entitled, “US ricin attacks are more scary than harmful,” the added slug line informed “But researchers hope that the incidents will renew development of stalled vaccines.”

Paul Kevin Curtis, the ricin-tainted letter mailer, appears to be profoundly mentally ill. There was never any chance that his letters would reach their targets. Bruce Ivins, the anthraxer who worked within the heart of the US’s bioterror defense establishment saw to that.

And there was no way the crude castor powder with ricin in it ever posed a threat to the general public.

It was country’s very bad luck to have the mental illness of Paul Kevin Curtis fly right into the middle of the week of the Boston terror bombing hysteria.

From Nature:

The US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland, has developed a vaccine called RVEc, which protected mice that were exposed to inhaled ricin.2 The vaccine has also been tested in human volunteers, who subsequently developed antibodies to the toxin. But further human testing is needed, and it is not clear whether the Department of Defense will continue to fund the vaccine’s development.

The other leading vaccine candidate, RiVax, is made by a company called Soligenix, based in Princeton, New Jersey. The vaccine was initially developed by Ellen Vitetta, an immunologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and batches made by her group have been tested in animals. Those batches have also been found to be safe in healthy human volunteers, in whom they stimulated the production of antibodies.

But Soligenix has not yet tested the safety and effectiveness of its own batches of RiVax. The company’s development efforts have slowed as a result of budget constraints at its funding agency, the NIAID, says Vitetta.

“It basically is not going anywhere,” she says. “It’s disappointing and upsetting.” After an event such as the latest ricin mailings, “everyone wants to know where the vaccines are. Somebody has to think this work is important enough to fund us and let us finish it.”

Soligenix’s work on the vaccine is currently funded by a US$9.4-million NIAID grant, but further testing in animals to prove the treatment’s effectiveness would cost between $20 million and $40 million, says Chris Schaber, the company’s president.

It is cynical behavior to use the work of an individual like Paul Kevin Curtis as an argument for the refinancing of bioterror defense business.

The conditions concerning ricin poison are not going to change. It will never be a weapon of mass destruction and therefore has little to no utility unless one can think of a rationalization to require all ongress, or the president, to be immunized with it.

Ricin-tainted letters are rare and one cannot generally predict who they will go to. Should the entire US postal service by immunized?

Rhetorical question, obviously.

Soligenix is a company that has been mentioned here from time to time. It is a bioterror defense nostrum firm that exists only because of Bruce Ivins and the war on terror. For over a decade it has been kept afloat by taxpayer money and never brought anything to the American people in return.

More recently its stock collapsed, the company eventually turning to an accounting maneuver to re-inflate it.

Practically speaking one might look at the anthrax mailer from Fort Detrick (USAMRIID) as the ultimate bioterror defense rent-seeker.

The FBI surmised that one of Ivins’ motivations in mailing anthrax was to create an incident that would save and stimulate his anthrax vaccine work. In this he certainly was successful. Fort Detrick, for example, where Bruce Ivins was employed was a hot place to work. Bruce Ivins, a very capable scientist, was no Paul Kevin Curtis.

So after the anthrax mailings the national bioterror defense industry boomed. It continued to expand through the entire presidency of George W. Bush. Indeed, those were its salad years.

However, today, spending on bioterror defense asks reasonable people to consider it in terms of morality and good citizenship.

For five years the country has been limping along with an economy that does not serve the majority of its citizens very well. Food stamp subsidies are at an all time high. Millions and millions of people are long-term unemployed or underemployed. The nation faces very serious problems it is not really attempting to solve.

However, crude powder containing ricin in the mail is not a serious national problem affecting the lives of hundreds of millions.

The vast majority of Americans have seen very little real benefit from the large sums in bioterror defense spending. This is probably not going to change.

In view of this, the use of Paul Kevin Curtis, an obviously nuts person, as a rationalization to spend money on a vaccine that no one will likely ever need takes on a taint of immorality. It is simply an attempted collusion between government and a small bit of the corporate national security business to get more of the taxpayer loot.

It is rent-seeking through use of the industry of fear.

You think this man is a reason to fund a ricin vaccine? Seriously?

Still time to get in on the last day of our second fundraiser, ever.

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