I found it odd a couple of weeks ago when President Bush floated the idea that we should consider using the military to enforce any quarantine needed in this country. He cited the Bird Flu epidemic, which has killed tens of millions of birds and 65 humans.
The reason cited for the sudden panic was a World Health Organization report that said the flu could mutate into a form that easily spreads among humans, possibly causing a pandemic. So far, the 65 people who have died all came in contact with sick birds. There has not been one confirmed human-to-human case.
So why the concern? After all, there is something very real and very present in our world right now. It is a virus that is active and kills people everyday – it is a virus that thinks and is working actively to kill human beings – that virus is, of course, al-Qaeda (aQ).
We know that the aQ virus is working south of the border. We know that its agents are infecting people in Honduras and other South American countries. And yet, the president continues to work to make plans to use the dramatic measure of stopping the so-far-nonexistent human bird flu, and yet he does nothing to close the border to the stop the spread of the existing deadly aQ virus.
Fascinating, isn’t it?
Bush did take some heat from experts about his proposing what would amount to Martial Law if the flu broke out.
Dr. Irwin Redlener, associate dean of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and director of its National Center for Disaster Preparedness, told The Associated Press the president's suggestion was dangerous.
Giving the military a law enforcement role would be an “extraordinarily Draconian measure” that would be unnecessary if the nation had built the capability for rapid vaccine production, ensured a large supply of anti-virals like Tamiflu and not allowed the degradation of the public health system.
“The translation of this is martial law in the United States,” Redlener said.
In other words, how about using vaccine to treat the flu instead of martial law? Spending time and money figuring out how to control the population is a waste, and does nothing to deal with the issue at hand – being prepared with a vaccine dose for every American. Being prepared allows a government to stop with having to plan to control a population that you presume will go nuts because there's been no planning.
You'll recall Bush's comments came after the Katrina mess, when the impact of incompetent state and local officials turned a disaster area onto one of anarchy. At that time, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush “wants to make sure that we learn the lessons from Hurricane Katrina,” including the use of the military in “a severe, catastrophic-type event.”
This makes one of two things clear: either the White House thinks all Americans are as depraved as the thugs who looted New Orleans and shot at doctors, or they know the disintegration of New Orleans was inevitable because of long-term corruption and are using it as an excuse to increase the federal government’s power.
My assessment? Americans have been known to be willing to curtail personal freedoms during a time of emergency. I believe the president's statement about using the military during a flu outbreak was a test – a trial balloon, if you will, to see which governors would protest and how the public would react. After watching the obscenity of New Orleans, are we willing to give the Feds power to use the military on hometown streets? Would we fall for the argument that all Americans would respond like the criminals left in New Orleans? Of course we wouldn't, and we haven't.
Chaos never emerged in Florida after they were hit by three hurricanes in a row in one season. It didn’t emerge in Los Angeles after the devastating wild fires and earthquakes. San Franciscans did not turn into animals after their earthquakes, and the people of the Midwest have never turned into werewolves after destructive tornadoes. Riots and deadly anarchy didn't even develop in the harder hit state of Mississippi after Katrina. The White House, and everyone else, knows this full well.
Further reports indicated last week “the Senate added $4 billion to a Pentagon spending bill to head off the threat of an outbreak of avian flu among humans. The bulk of the money – $3 billion – would be used to stockpile Tamiflu, an antiviral drug that has proved effective against the H5N1 virus – the strain blamed for six deaths in Indonesia last week.
“U.S. health agencies have about 2 million doses of Tamiflu, enough to treat about 1 percent of the population. The money added by the Senate would build that stockpile to cover about 50 percent of the population.”
That’s a good start, and I’m certainly not dismissing the idea that a flu pandemic is possible, but our concern here is the nature of President Bush’s response. In 1957, the Asian pandemic claimed 70,000 American lives. In 1968, the Hong Kong flu claimed one million lives worldwide. Both were tragedies, but in neither case did the president (Eisenhower and Johnson) feel compelled to send out the military to keep the American people in their place. They didn’t need to, and neither will President Bush.
Perhaps the reaction to using the military was not what the White House had hoped for, and now seems to be engaging in a little bit of damage control. A story emerged Tuesday, October 11 with comments from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They once again assert that “all options need to be on the table,” but then downplayed actually ever needing the military to step in if a quarantine was implemented.
All the options need to be on the table,” said Dr. Marty Cetron, head of quarantine at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bush's comments recall how quarantines were enforced in parts of this country in the 1890s, when armed guards patrolled streets to keep victims of smallpox and other dread diseases confined to their homes.
“The image that perhaps was inadvertently conveyed is really a setting in extreme that's less likely,” Cetron cautioned. “There's a whole range of options in the public-health toolbox for ways to achieve this goal of social distancing.”
The report assures us further that the CDC instructions to states stress using the least restrictive means necessary to stem an infection's spread
If the CDC and White House are getting nervous about the public reaction to using the military domestically, they should be. I don't care how many assurances the feds give us, eliminating or changing the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 – which bans the military from participating in police-type activity on U.S. soil – is unacceptable. The federal government’s job is to make sure we are prepared to stop the flu and/or treat it. Bush needs to stop thinking of ways to control what he thinks will be a savage population. He should also stop using the worst of New Orleans as a benchmark to judge the character of every other American.
It's about time the federal government gets serious about the ease with which the existing pandemic virus (al-Qaeda) can get into this country – simply by walking over the border. Deal with that before you start presuming that the greatest nation on earth won't be able to handle an as-of-now nonexistent flu, and presuming the people of the greatest nation on earth will all dissolve into riotous savages if we're told we have to curtail our activity for a period of time.
Watch this story carefully, one of the main things to look for is whether or not the president ramps up or curtails his rhetoric about domestic use of the military, especially in dealing with something like the flu. Listen, too, for his proxies, like a government agency (the CDC for example) and congressional representatives. They will be used to further test your response to such a dramatic, unnecessary, and unjust plan.
COPYRIGHT TAMMY BRUCE 2005
Check out Tammy's blog at TammyBruce.com.
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