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Bird flu: the Bush administration has been creating irrational fear about the dangers of avian influenza just so that they can "save" us from it through restrictive governmental powers.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed [and hence clamorous to be led to safety] by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

--H.L. Mencken

Though the H5N1 virus, better known as Avian Influenza or the bird flu, is a tangible reality and a potential threat, conjuring the prospect of the disease mutating into a planet-menacing pandemic involves a considerable amount of imagination. At present, roughly 60 people out of a global population of more than six billion have succumbed to the bird flu, and nearly all of them have contracted it under conditions very difficult to duplicate. No evidence has emerged to indicate that the virus can be transmitted from one human being to another--although it's possible that such a dire mutation could occur.

Nonetheless, the Bush administration and the UN's World Health Organization are prepared to spend billions of dollars to regiment human society just in case this isolated and relatively obscure affliction somehow morphs into a global plague. Their actions are rooted in a version of the "precautionary principle" encoded into UN-aligned radical environmentalism: supposedly to avoid a catastrophe, people are expected to live with the same privations and impositions that would occur had the envisioned catastrophe actually taken place.

Apocalypse Now?

Modern politics is built on the cult of the all-powerful, all-benevolent state. Unlike the modest and limited entity envisioned by the Framers of our Constitution, which was intended to protect individual rights and property, the contemporary state is depicted, by those who worship it, as a secular savior endowed with the power to rectify all injustices and protect its subjects from every conceivable hardship or danger.

Adherents of the state-cult thus constantly seek to convince a critical portion of the public that at least three of the apocalyptic horsemen are saddled up and digging spurs into their mounts, while the fourth is getting his riding tack in order.

The preferred apocalyptic scenarios generally involve large-scale disasters, such as global environmental collapse or universal nuclear annihilation. Since 9/11, mass terrorism has been added to that list. These potential crises, however, tend to be too abstract to generate the required panic. Environmental scare scenarios dissipate quickly when exposed to rational science. During the Cold War, the vision of global nuclear holocaust was a potent mobilizing force, but that threat has lost much of its potency since the apparent collapse of communism. Post 9/11, that threat has recovered some of its urgency in the form of exploitable fears of mass terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction, as the Bush administration's success in deceiving our nation into the Iraq war illustrates.

But 9/11, horrific and destructive as it was, actually illustrates the limited usefulness of terrorism as a foil for authoritarian reforms. While the Black Tuesday attacks killed thousands and inflicted billions of dollars in damage to our economy, it was hardly a civilization-threatening event affecting the interests and well-being of most Americans.

This is why plague-related scenarios, particularly those involving bioterrorism, are so promising to those seeking to scare the public into submission. Most people find it difficult to imagine the collapse of the biosphere, or a cataclysmic nuclear assault. But everybody knows what it's like to be sick, vulnerable, and helpless. And since influenza is a seasonal affliction experienced by millions, the conceptual link between one's sniffles and aching joints and a global pandemic seems more plausible. Thus the potential threat of unseen microbes may claim the position currently occupied by terrorists in the Bush administration's demonology.

"The H5N1 virus ... is part of an unseen microbial world that is constantly mutating, adapting and attacking birds, animals, and people," intoned Michael Leavitt, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, during an October 27 National Press Club speech. "Usually, human bodies muster a natural response but during at least ten periods in the past 300 years, viruses have mounted massive pandemic assaults that made masses ill and caused millions to die.... If the past is prologue, we are overdue for the next pandemic."

Actually, "pandemic assaults" that have occurred since the dawn of the 20th century have been relatively modest, at least in historic terms.

"Remember SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome]?" inquires Tom Bethell, author of the newly published Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, referring to an outbreak that prompted concerns of a pandemic just a few years ago. "That was another huge scare. In the end, 770 people died worldwide. To put that in perspective, about 55 million people die around the world every year, 2.4 million of them in the United States. It is said 1968 was another 'pandemic' year; 34,000 Americans died of flu. But about that many die of flu each year--most of pneumonia."

The 1918 flu epidemic, which involved a strain similar to the bird flu, did yield horrifying results, claiming 500,000 Americans (many of them interred in mass graves) and an estimated 20 to 50 million worldwide. As Bethell points out: "Thanks to World War I, immune systems were compromised and diet was often inadequate." The war itself was the most serious disease vector: millions of people were drawn into huge, largely static battlegrounds in circumstances guaranteed to result in the propagation of disease. The foolish and self-destructive decision by Washington to entangle our nation in the overseas conflict played a key role in this tragedy, since U.S. soldiers carried the disease with them--both coming and going.

Don't Think--Just React!

In his November 1 address to the National Institutes of Health, President Bush outlined a $7.1 billion program to stockpile vaccine and to build--in collaboration with the World Health Organization and the World Food Program--an international monitoring system to track the progress of the expected pandemic. No one knows when or where a deadly mutation might occur, he said, but "at some point we are likely to face another pandemic."

Medical analyst Laurie Garrett, who has been assigned to cover the plague beat for the Council on Foreign Relations, an institution dedicated to creating global governance, echoes the president's views. "Every day the chances that this virus or another such virus will move from one species to another grow," she insists. Richard Falkenrath, a former deputy Homeland Security adviser in the Bush administration, maintains that the prospect of a flu pandemic "is the most dangerous threat the United States faces today. It's bigger than terrorism. In fact it's bigger than anything I dealt with when I was in government."

Nor is the official alarmism limited to Washington. "Taking bird flu seriously, Australia is ready to lock up plane passengers upon landing there," reports the Post Chronicle of Rockaway, New Jersey. The Times of London reports that British authorities are preparing to deploy armed police guards to protect surgeons and vaccine supplies from mobs should a bird flu breakout occur.

Within international diplomatic circles, the panic has taken the form of demands for redistribution of money and medical resources. Julio Frenk, Mexico's health minister, "called on wealthy nations to put aside some of their influenza drugs for developing countries," reported AP on October 25. "I think the ethical, the political, the future security implications of the situation where only the wealthy countries have access to vaccines and drugs would be unimaginable," Frenk told the wire service in an interview during an Ottawa conference of the UN's World Health Organization and World Food Program. "It would be as harmful, or even more harmful, than the pandemic itself."

In fact, since the pandemic remains purely theoretical at this point, the harm has already been done by creating a new line of attack against the developed countries and their taxpayers. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin likewise insisted that "wealthy nations have an obligation to developing nations to share pandemic plans, influenza testing and any drugs that might ward off a global tragedy caused by a mutant strain of ... avian flu," reported Canada's CBN News.

Get a Grip--or They Will

For all of the opportunistic alarm that has been generated by the political class and its media allies, the bird flu's actual impact has been less than minuscule. While the disease can be contracted by handling diseased poultry, thus far, no reported case of person-to-person transmission of bird flu has occurred. As of October, 121 people had contracted the bird flu in Asia, with 62 reported fatalities. Cases have been reported in both birds and people in Croatia and Kuwait.

Gary Butcher of the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine has a Ph.D. in poultry virology. In recent months, reports the Gainesville Sun, Dr. Butcher has "been traveling the world, speaking to alarmed government officials and industry groups dispelling the myths and reinforcing the realities of avian influenza."

"The emphasis of all my work has changed to dealing with this madness," comments Dr. Butcher. "Realistically, avian influenza is not a threat to people, but everywhere you go, it has turned into a circus."

That's because we're not dealing with reality, we're dealing with politics, a realm long defined by what Plato called the "noble lie"--convenient falsehoods diligently cultivated by rulers to acquire and retain power.

The virus "has not demonstrated the ability to spread efficiently from person to person," acknowledged Secretary Leavitt in November 8 testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. However, he continued, a global pandemic "could become a reality if this virus mutates further, remains highly virulent, and acquires the capability to spread as efficiently from person to person as do the commonly circulating virus strains that produce seasonal influenza epidemics."

Leavitt acknowledges an unmet list of qualifying conditions that appear to diminish the threat of bird flu, yet he still contends that even if the bird flu alarm is overwrought, undertaking radical measures is still a good idea, since "the likelihood of an influenza pandemic at some point remains high. This is why we need to prepare now in order to swiftly and efficiently respond to an outbreak.... Everyone in society has a role."

"Everyone in society has a role." Anytime that phrase or a variation on it escapes the lips of a government official, everything else that surrounds it is mere pretext. The purported subject could be any conceivable human problem or predicament, and the supposed objective may be to banish that problem from our lives. But the real object and design is to expand government's power to regulate and regiment the lives of everyone within its sphere of influence. And that variety of government is far more lethal than the flu.
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Author:Grigg, William Norman
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 12, 2005
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