Thursday, April 30, 2009

The politics of fear

A world gone mad

The World Health Organization (WHO), bowing to pressure from meat industry producers and concerned governments, said on Thursday it would refer to a deadly new virus strain as influenza A (H1N1) not swine flu.--Reuters

"I would tell members of my family - and I have - that I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now"--Joe Biden

"U.S. stock futures fell sharply Monday as the outbreak of deadly swine flu stoked fears that a possible recovery in the global economy could be derailed."-- Wall Street Journal

"It's important not to let a crisis go to waste."-- Rahm Emanuel


I'm as worried about catching the flu as we all are. I get my flu shot every year and advise friends and family--especially teachers--to do the same. I hate when people sneeze on me or spread their colds on planes.

But I'm trying to make some sense out of the latest pandemic of fear politics sweeping the country and the world. Who benefits/who loses? Those are the first questions that usually come to mind when I'm confronted with official madness and panic mongering. The pharmaceutical companies? Grandstanding politicians trying to play the new post 9/11 Rudy Giuliani? The Office of Homeland Security pretending that the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on this massive Bush-era bureaucracy is really necessary because its leader appears on TV telling us to wash our hands? Someone please tell me.

Why am I suddenly harking back to duck tape, flashlights and Saran Wrap? Or to the 1976 swine-flu "epidemic" that took one life (that's how many fatalities we've lost so far in this pandemic) while dozens more died from the hastily cooked-up vaccine?

I can somewhat understand the motives of the Limbaugh, Buchanan racist wing-nut crowd, using the fear of influenza to personally attack Obama or to whip up anti-immigration hysteria while my own fear is that the current economic isolation of Mexico will kill thousands more than the flu ever could. But what about the "normal" people now running the show in Washington?

Other questions that don't answer:

Am I really hearing the vice-president of the United States telling us not to take public transportation--ride the subway? Am I really reading that entire school districts are being closed "until May 6th" because someone in the district may have the flu?

"Wash your hands"?

Don't they know that so many schools here in Chicago and in other urban districts have no soap or working sinks in their bathrooms? Did the Republicans really strip $900 million from for pandemic influenza preparedness from the economic stimulus package back in February? Why are many just recognizing the need for a public health system? Are we really going to keep millions of kids out of school and parents home from work for a week? A month? Has the world gone mad? I mean, it's the flu!

B. Jeffrey Madoff writes on Huffington:
As we reminisced about Hong Kong Flu, Mad Cow Disease, West Nile Virus, Ebola Virus, Avian Flu, Anthrax -- there seemed to be no shortage of health issues that scared us -- especially if we watched television. In the rush to report, a hailstorm of information is spewed out, often without reflection or context. Television does more to frighten than inform us. Variations of swine flu have been here before, in 1976 and 1988. According to the World Health Organization, common seasonal flu kills 250,000 to 500,000 people globally in a normal year. It's a good idea to wash your hands regularly and not sneeze in someone's face regardless of the flu. It's important to have some perspective when you're scared to inhale.

1 comment:

  1. Now we see what the loss of thousands of school nurses nationwide really means. 25% of our schools have no nurse. These are almost all in low-income neighborhood schools which kids often have no other access to health care. This is an "epidemic" of poverty--not caused by a virus, but man-made.


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