Wednesday :: May 3, 2006

Bush's Newest "Katrina": Bird Flu

by Steve

Image courtesy of MSNBC

I don’t support the GOP’s “scare them into voting for us” model, but maybe it’s time for the Democrats to turn it against the White House and GOP incumbents this fall.

If you want to see this administration replay its negligence and abdication of responsibility from Katrina, aside from whatever befalls them this hurricane season, check out how the Administration is preparing for the bird flu. At a time when this cabal is finding and spending $10 billion a month on failing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq despite the best efforts of our fighting men and women, and at a time when the GOP thinks there is plenty of money to continue the dividend and capital gains tax cuts two more years, the GOP feels that the primary burden for dealing with the aftermath of a bird flu outbreak falls on local governments, and not the feds.

“Local communities will have to address the medical and nonmedical impacts of the pandemic with available resources,” the report warned, because federal officials won’t be able to offer the kind of aid expected after hurricanes or other one-time, one-location natural disasters.

This was announced by the same lady (Francis Frago Townsend) who helped drop the ball on Katrina, and whose job it has been to develop with others the public health infrastructure to deal with a biological weapons attack. And yet nearly four years after 9/11, this country still has no such public health infrastructure or capability, despite the billions that have been spent on the Department of Homeland Security, Iraq, Afghanistan, upper income tax cuts, and soon, Iran.

The incremental plan was drawing complaints Tuesday that despite months of dire talk about the threat of a pandemic, the Bush administration hasn’t accomplished enough.
“Other nations have been implementing their plans for years, but we’re reading ours for the first time now. These needless delays have put Americans at risk,” complained Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Newsweek interviewed Dr. Irwin Redlener, who said that the Bush Administration has woefully under funded the effort to date, and has focused on developing vaccines and stockpiling remedies, rather than developing infrastructure, again, years after Townsend and her bosses were supposed to be working on developing the public health infrastructure to deal with a biological attack.

I am very concerned about the preparedness efforts because of a dramatic disconnect between what they put on paper to be done compared to resources actually made available to do them. I haven’t seen the latest report, but the one that came out in November provided a very detailed, comprehensive agenda for the United States and a completely unrealistic budget to go along with it. Out of the $7.1 billion allocated, more than 95 percent has been directed to vaccine development and stockpiling Tamiflu and antivirals.

By the way, there is one person who is thrilled that the Bush Administration has spent most of its inadequate money on Tamiflu: Donald Rumsfeld.

And what does Redlener think of the Bush Administration’s response to the bird flu?

Last year President Bush said maybe we’ll use the military to do the quarantine. Two months ago, Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt recommended that Americans start storing canned tuna under the bed. There are a lot of off-the-wall ideas that are not necessarily based in science. I’ve heard a few tidbits from the new report—like telling airlines to stockpile air masks. You’re going to tell this to bankrupt airlines that are already taking away our meals?
The question of whether we are panicking people unnecessarily is a legitimate question. But if this is a real possibility—and most scientists think it is—then we have to do something prudent without breaking the bank. We need to come up with a plan that is affordable, workable and effective. Right now we don’t have any of that. These plans on paper are neither feasible nor affordable and there’s no money behind it. What the government is doing now is exacerbating the potential for people to be very frightened by creating a to-do list without providing the money to pay for the things on the list

And what would it take to prepare effectively for the bird flu?

We need a $5 billion immediate infusion into the health-care systems to boost staffs, equipment and supplies, and general resiliency. There are about 5,000 hospitals in the United States and virtually all of them would need to be upgraded to respond to this or other major emergencies. Then we need to at least put into play a program to make sure that we don’t have uninsured people in the United States. It’s been on the agenda for 20 years. But now it could be a matter of life or death.

In other words, for half the amount we spend in one month in Iraq and Afghanistan, we could give health care systems an immediate boost to deal with not only bird flu, but also I suspect similar attacks as well. Or, to put it more directly, rather than extend the dividend and capital gains tax cuts for another two years, we could take that revenue from the rates returning to where they were, and fund the measures Bush should have been implementing in 2002.

Democrats should jump on the GOP’s “scare them into voting for us” bandwagon on something that matters here at home. They could link the under funded public health system and broken health care system, to the $70 billion the GOP gave away today so that the well-off could have another two years of dividend and capital gains tax cuts.

If they had the guts to do so, that is.

Steve :: 1:27 PM :: Comments (9) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!