A POSSIBLE POLITICS OF PLAGUE

by

Tom Baugh

Should Progressives be concerned about the potential outbreak of Avian Influenza or other similar diseases? Well, yes. Should there be an outbreak Progressives will sicken and die just like anyone else (well, perhaps because Progressives are so politically pure of spirit, not quite so rapidly or in such great numbers, but still…). Are there political reasons to be concerned? There certainly are, for Progressives and for everybody else, and we’ll look at those in a moment.

First, let’s meet the Avian Influenza virus designated ‘H5N1.’ Viruses are very tiny strands of nucleic acid encased in a protein coat. They are found in all of the living things that science has so far investigated. It is their ability to replicate themselves within the cells of living organisms that can cause serious health problems.

When a virus enters a cell it may direct the cell to stop doing whatever perfectly normal things it was doing and to start making new copies of the virus! Cells burst in their millions as they are filled with the replicating virus. Diseases caused by viruses include influenza, smallpox, infectious hepatitis, yellow fever, polio, rabies, AIDS and many more that we know little about.

The Avian Influenza (H5N1) has demonstrated its ability to cross the species barrier from birds to humans. The fear is that it will become communicable between and among humans and become pandemic (worldwide). The pandemic may occur sometime within the next year, within the next decade, or never. However, most experts seem to feel that a flu virus, of some sort, will occur sometime in the not too distant future and become pandemic. Although the media has put a pandemic on the back burner, the World Health Organization (2006) has cautioned that an avian virus pandemic remains something to be very concerned about.

What are the political ramifications of an outbreak of Avian Influenza (or any other highly infectious pathogen)? Can you imagine a US federal government, led by the Office of Homeland Security (some say ‘Insecurity’) protecting anybody from anything, let alone a pandemic? (Can’t imagine that, well neither can many others.) Remember, the Bush government brought us an aftermath to Hurricane Katrina worse than the storm itself.
Considering the disaster that Project Bioshield (Lipton 2006) has become and the poorly conceived and eventually abandoned small pox vaccination plans, we can only hope that federal plans to protect the US population and aid world communities in the event of a pandemic are in better shape than government plans to stockpile drugs to combat bioterror.
That is, however, a very questionable assumption and it is why jurisdictions from major cities to tiny hamlets in the hinterlands are proceeding with their own, often disparate and sometimes draconian, planning (Holmberg 2006).

How might the Bush Administration, or any other similar authoritarian administration take advantage of an outbreak to extend the physical and political control it so obviously greatly desires? Suspension of the right to peacefully assemble is the first thing that comes to mind. People gathered together might spread the disease; therefore gathering together might be restricted. From an epidemiological standpoint, some types of quarantine or curtailment of non-essential large gatherings (basketball games, etc.) will be an important tool in stalling the propagation of a pandemic. However, given this Administration’s heavy-handed incursion on civil liberties in the name of the “war on terror”, any attempt at restriction of the right of assembly is a frightening prospect.

Authoritarian governments are not only intrinsically opportunistic but also often quick to take advantage of disaster (or create one) to further their own agendas (Paxton 2004). Furthermore, it is unreasonable to expect adherence to the best science on how to respond to a pandemic given the Bush Administration’s sorry history with ideologically driven science policy-making.

What might happen, with the current or a similar government in power, should a flu pandemic begin just before a national election? People gather to vote. Congress would make sure there was an election, you say. Is this essentially the same Congress that granted (and still grants) the puppet President George Bush blank check for an unjustified war? Is this the same Congress that has approved increasing restriction of civil rights? Well, there have been some changes, but it is essentially the same pathetically weak, timid gathering. How about suspension of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 that prohibits the use of federal troops as police within the US? President Bush has already asked the Congress to reconsider this act in light of his War on Terror. His controllers would have him move to suspend Posse Comitatus in a moment, just like he did the need for warrants on domestic wiretaps, claiming that the Congress had given him that right when it approved the war against Iraq.

Finally, the religious zealots and political ideologues that staff the current administration and surround President Bush have demonstrated time and time again, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and through their frequent suppression and manipulation of climate change reports and other science information (Schmid 2006; Eilperin 2006, Waxman 2004), that if you make a lie big enough, and tell it often enough, enough people will believe it to keep you in power. So far it has worked. Perhaps, however, these same zealots will simply tell us we are not sick and dying and one of their dangerously clownish faith healers will conduct mass healing using the increasingly controlled media. Perhaps, in fact, they see a pandemic as the embodiment of the apocalypse many of them take as gospel and just around the corner. After all, why get in God’s way?

References Cites

Eilperin, J. 2006. Bush appointee said to reject advice on endangered species. Washington
Post. October 30.

Holmberg, S.D., C.M. Layton, G.S. Ghneim, and D. K. Wagener. 2006. State plans for containment of pandemic influenza.
Emerging Infectious Diseases 12(9).

Lipton, E. 2006. Bid to stockpile bioterror drugs stymied by setbacks. New York Times, September 18.

Paxton, R.O. 2004. Anatomy of Fascism. Alfred A. Knopf. 321pp.

Schmid, .E. 2006. White House said to bar hurricane report. Associated Press. October
26.

Waxman, H.A. 2004. Politics and science in the Bush Administration. Committee Reform, Minority Office. Washington, D.C.