Democratic Underground

Bird Flu is Real - And You're On Your Own

November 1, 2005
By Ernest Partridge, The Crisis Papers

"There is no such entity as 'the public' ... the public is merely a number of individuals." - Ayn Rand

Several leftish bloggers have published their doubts that the alleged avian flu menace is anything more than another Bushevik distraction and just in time to draw our attention away from Plamegate and the "Scooter" Libby indictments. (See, for example, Bill van Auken.)

Who can blame them? After all, as Keith Olberman recently pointed out, each of the Department of Homeland Security's thirteen color-coded "terror alerts" shortly followed some instance of Bush Administration bungling. And sure enough, the orange alerts took the embarrassments off the front pages and the TV newscasts.

Unfortunately, this time the threat is all too real.

And how might we know this? Certainly not because the mainstream media says so. We've been forewarned: if the Bush regime chooses to concoct another convenient "emergency," we can be sure that the corporate media will obediently do their part by sounding the alarm.

We can know that the bird flu is an oncoming disaster because the scientists tell us so. I count myself among the apparently declining minority of Americans who believe that science remains the most reliable source of factual information. Far more reliable than faith or George Bush's gut.

As a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), I subscribe to its journal, Science, which has been warning of this menace for several years. (Most recently in the July 15 and October 7 issues.) And the AAAS is no friend of Dubya's "faith-based" anti-science administration.

In addition, the cover story of the October, 2005 issue of National Geographic, is "The Next Killer Flu: Can We Stop It?" For much, much more, Google "Avian Influenza," and you will find over two and half million hits. Leading the list are reports from the World Health Organization and the U.S Centers for Disease Control.

The 1918 influenza pandemic killed from 50 to 100 million people. The same proportion of victims, adjusted to the increase in population since 1918, would add up to 180 to 360 million. (National Geographic). Needless to say, such a catastrophe would devastate the world economy, causing millions more to die of starvation and other diseases, as vital services and the distribution of essential supplies would be paralyzed. The good news is that medical science has advanced significantly since 1918. The bad news is that international air traffic would accelerate enormously the spread of the pandemic. The worst news: scientists tell us that the outbreak is a virtual certainty more likely sooner rather than later.

Much more might be said here about the biological and epidemiological aspects of this looming threat. But my space here is limited, and an abundance of scientific information about avian flu from qualified experts is readily available. Instead, I will confine my comments to the politics of the bird flu menace.

To put the matter bluntly: among recent U.S. administrations, the Bush regime is the absolute worst to be in power at a time when a global pandemic is about to break out. Bush's Health and Human Services Secretary, Michael Leavitt, admitted as much: "There have been many who foresaw this and urged the country to begin preparations sooner, and it would have been better if we had done so." (Newsweek, October 31, 2005).

But as Katrina demonstrated to us all, planned preparations for foreseen national emergencies are just not the Bushists' thing. Nor is it much the concern of the GOP Congress, which has slashed funding for emergency services, bio-medical research and the Centers for Disease Control. The request for influenza research this year was $119 million. Presumably, this is one of the "big government" programs that Grover Norquist and his gang would like to "drown in a bathtub." By way of contrast, the Congress readily appropriated $10 billion (with a "b") for anti-ballistic missile defense a "defense" against a non-existent threat that does not, and arguably can not work.

The public apathy and lack of preparation in advance of the coming pandemic catastrophe must be blamed, at least in part, on the past PR manipulations by Bush's White House. In addition to the thirteen false terror alarms noted above, we've been told these demonstrably false Iraq/WMD warnings: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." (Cheney, August, 2002) "We know where [the WMDs] are. They are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad." (Rumsfeld, May, 2003). "We found the weapons of mass destruction." (Bush, May, 2003). Add to that "the smoking gun in the form of the mushroom cloud," Saddam's bio-war "Winnebagos of Death" (Colin Powell to the UN, February 2003), the pilotless balsa-wood and bailing wire "aircraft of doom."

And now a flu pandemic? Yeah, sure! So what else is new?

Remember the fable of the boy who cried wolf? Here's the validation.

So what are we to do about the coming bird flu disaster? Research and development of a vaccine? Too little and too late. Emergency production of Tamiflu, the best available medication? No facilities in the United States they've been "outsourced." The manufacturer of Tamiflu, Roche Holding AG of Switzerland, holds the patent, and we wouldn't want to violate its corporate rights now, would we merely to save a few million lives? In fact, Roche is willing to license other facilities to produce Tamiflu. But all this falls short of the required massive production increase. Even so, the French now have 13 million doses of Tamiflu ready for their population of 60 million. But what would you expect: those poor souls have "socialized medicine." In the U.S., there are 2.3 million doses of Tamiflu on hand. Why not more? Because "many American drug companies no longer even make flu vaccines because there is little long-term profit to be made in vaccine manufacturing." Three cheers for free enterprise!

Inadequate research and development. Insufficient supplies of medications and vaccines. Insufficient numbers of hospital beds and emergency equipment for the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of pandemic victims. Will the Bush administration provide the funding for these necessary preparations for the pending emergency? No way. But Bush has another plan:

"Send in the troops!"

Thus Bush's pathological fascination with armed force comes to the fore. Katrina gave us a glimpse of what Bush might have in store for us for the next national emergency. In his speech to the nation from Jackson Square in New Orleans, Bush said: "It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice." And at a White House press conference on October 4, Bush reflected: If we had an outbreak [of avian flu] somewhere in the United States, do we not then quarantine that part of the country? And how do you, then enforce a quarantine? ... And who best to be able to effect a quarantine? ... One option is the use of a military that's able to plan and move."

Nicole Colson elaborates:

Congress may already be helping Bush's wish become a reality. The Senate Armed Services Committee is reportedly considering proposals to increase the military's role in natural disasters by creating National Guard units specializing in disaster response--and clearing the way for active troops to engage in law enforcement activities on U.S. soil, something that's currently illegal.

Congressional aides recently told U.S. News and World Report that some senators are also considering introducing legislation that would allow the Feds, in "extreme circumstances," to take command of the National Guard without first getting approval from a governor.

As the Katrina disaster abundantly demonstrated, George Bush presides over a government that does not believe in government except, of course, as a device for gathering tax revenues from the masses and redistributing it to defense contractors and campaign contributors, and also for keeping dissenting citizens under surveillance and control. Otherwise, whatever the government attempts to do, we are told by the right-wing think-tank gurus, private individuals, private property, and "the free market" will always do better.

The regressive right and its captive media have been pounding these doctrines of privatism and market absolutism into our heads since the heyday of Ayn Rand and the founding of Bill Buckley's National Review, fifty years ago doctrines devoid of evidence and sound argument, contrary to both practical experience and the historical record, and "proven" by little more than constant repetition by right-wing propagandists.

More and more of our fellow citizens have been persuaded to believe this nonsense and will continue to do so, until, during some emergency, they desperately need the assistance of trained professional "public servants" employed by the government, with well thought-out procedures in place. And where is the government today when we are in desperate need of its emergency services? Perhaps "drowned in a bathtub" somewhere.

Tough luck, folks! This is George Bush's "ownership society," and you're on your own.

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He publishes the website, The Online Gadfly and co-edits the progressive website, The Crisis Papers. He is at work on a book, Conscience of a Progressive, which can be seen in-progress here. Send comments to:

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