An Appealing Chinese Import: Accountability 

Should leaders who ruin lives go unpunished?

NEW YORK—Zhang Shuhong was a nice boss to the end. On the last day of his life, the 50ish entrepreneur greeted his employees as they arrived at his factory and wished them a good shift. Then he went to the company warehouse and hanged himself.

Zhang was co-owner of the Lee Der Industrial Company, the Chinese company that made toys for Mattel using toxic levels of lead paint. Mattel issued a recall expected to cost the company in the neighborhood of $30 million.

Poor guy—he probably didn't even know the paint his workers were slathering on nearly a million toys for preschoolers was dangerous. "The boss and the company were harmed by the paint supplier, the closest friend of our boss," reported the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper.

"It is not uncommon for Chinese executives to commit suicide after suffering damage to their reputation," noted the UK Telegraph.

Zhang's death followed the July execution of Zheng Xiaoyu, 62, head of China's State Food and Drug Administration from 1994 to 2005. Zheng was convicted of accepting $850,000 in bribes from eight pharmaceutical companies in exchange for approving fake and substandard drugs. An antibiotic involved in the case killed at least 10 people.

The Xinhua news agency didn't say how Zheng was killed, but most Chinese executions are carried out with a single gunshot to the back of the head. Shortly afterward, a policeman notifies the condemned man's family by presenting them with a bill for the cost of the bullet.

Now that's accountability. Can we import some of that, too?

The late Mssrs. Zhang and Zheng oversaw corruption and incompetence that pales next to catastrophes for which no American has yet been held accountable. Thousands died in hurricane Katrina because officials all the way up to George "Heckuva job, Brownie!" Bush made a conscious decision not to help. Two years later, what's left of New Orleans is dying, murdered by an appalling political calculus: It is (was) black. It was Democratic. Shouldn't government officials face a firing squad for killing a major city?

What about Iraq? It wouldn't bring back the million dead civilians or the thousands of dead soldiers, but watching Wolfy and Rummy and Cheney hold hands as they leapt off the tallest building in D.C. might brighten the day of their grieving relatives.

The same goes for the war against Afghanistan, which state-controlled media has finally conceded is a lost cause. (Lead story in the August 12 New York Times: "How the 'Good War' in Afghanistan Went Bad.") Save some rope for the Democratic politicians and the phony journalists who insisted that Bush had "taken his eye off the ball in Afghanistan" to invade Iraq. The blood splattered by every errant Hellfire missile, every blown-up wedding party and the bullet wounds in Pat Tillman's body are their responsibility.

If execution is good enough for Cao Wenzhuang, a Chinese FDA official accused of taking $307,000 in bribes, how about his American counterparts? As cancer patients drop like flies, U.S. FDA bureaucrats delay approval of drugs that could have saved their lives.

Eloxatin, a drug used to treat advanced colorectal cancer, has been approved in at least 29 countries—but the FDA rejected it anyway. Under pressure from terminally ill patients, the agency then approved it. But they dragged their feet for more than two years. Some 40,000 Americans died during the delay.

"Twelve drugs—had they been available to people denied entry to clinical trials—might have helped more than one million mothers, fathers, sons and daughters live longer, better lives," say the founders of the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs.

I'm not sure I'd want to live somewhere as uptight as China. At its border with Tajikistan recently, a white-gloved policeman stood ramrod straight, sweating under a blazing sun, waiting to direct traffic. Because the border was closed for lunch, however, there was no traffic. Even when vehicles began moving, he had no traffic to direct—it was a straight road, not an intersection. Some official thought the border needed a traffic cop, so there he was.

Still, the Chinese get some things right. "Corruption in the food and drug authority has brought shame to the nation," says Yan Jiangying, deputy policy director of China's FDA. We could use some shame here in America.

Ted Rall is the author of the new book Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?, an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.

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