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The Politics Of "Pandemics"

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“Congratulations to all you American media morons, you’ve got your country worked-up into a frenzy…everybody knows that swine flu goes away just as quickly as regular flu, but for you its all about audiences and profits, so you’ll hype this for all it’s worth, wont ya?”

The talk show caller was so enraged at me, he had begun slurring his words as he spit them out in rapid-fire succession. It was last Friday, May 1, and I was making another one of my semi-regular appearances as an interview guest on a popular afternoon drive radio talk show in British Columbia (the show hosts and I have a good rapport, as they jokingly refer to me as “almost their favorite American” ).

After the caller spewed his venom, one of the co-hosts deferred to me, saying “Austin, your response?”

I pointed out that President Obama and Secretary Napolitano from the Department of Homeland Security had chosen to speak repeatedly about the “swine flu pandemic.” Never mind the fact that out of a population of roughly 304 million U.S. citizens, less than 150 cases of swine flu have been identified in only 19 of the 50 states. No, no, forget that. Our government officials were “taking care of us.”

To illustrate my point, here’s a fun little excerpt from a news report filed on Monday April 27th - - which was oh-so-many press conferences ago - - by the McClatchy-Tribune news service:

“Faced with the global outbreak…the Obama administration has been relying on a member of the president's Cabinet with almost no background in medicine - Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security. Over the past two days, Napolitano has been a constant presence on television screens and in news reports, urging calm, offering reassurance, laying out the facts and the government's response to the spreading outbreak.”

That was the “news” of a week ago, when Napolitano had already become a “constant presence” in the media.

So who, precisely, is trying to “hype this thing for all it’s worth?”

And by the way, the governmental hype doesn’t begin and end with Obama and company. It was President George W. Bush himself who, in 2006, held a press conference to announce the launching of a new governmental website devoted entirely to information about the “bird flu pandemic.” Likewise, Bush’s Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff noted at the time that "the avian (bird) flu bears the potential for societal disruption of unprecedented proportion.”

At that time, the Bush gang was trying to recover from all the blame assigned to them a few months earlier for Hurricane Katrina. Recall that, in the aftermath of that disaster, it was open season for Bush-bashing, complete with Rev. Louis Farrakahn insinuating that the “white” President Bush had bombed New Orleans' protective levees so as to deliberately flood black neighborhoods.

So Bush had a political reason to “not waste a good crisis” back in 2006. And what might be the Obama gang’s reason to utilize this current crisis for their own benefit?

Well, let’s start with Ms. Napolitano. Perhaps she needed to become a “constant presence” in the media, because a week earlier she had people demanding her resignation after her announcement about pro-life activists and U.S. military veterans being on her list of “terror threats.”

Initially, when that news broke, Napolitano insisted that she “stood by” her report, but eventually ended up apologizing to a veterans group for her assertions. So what better time to be all over the national news media, “urging calm,” “offering reassurance,” and so forth? The “crisis” was certainly not wasted.

I must note here that, prior to the enraged phone caller spitting at me on the Canadian talk show last Friday, my discussions with the program hosts had nothing to do with “swine flu.” I was actually being interviewed about President Obama’s declaration that America’s interrogation of terror suspects before he took office had amounted to “torture.”

I had pointed out that the President Obama who declared interrogation to be “torture,” was the same President Obama who 2 weeks earlier had ordered Navy snipers to kill 3 terrorists holding Americans hostage at sea. Those terrorists (we called them “pirates”) didn’t have the great blessing of being taken in to custody, or being held at Guantanamo Bay Prison, or being “water boarded.” They were simply shot to death, at the order of President Obama.

My point on the show was that no President can allow terrorists - - neither teen age boys hijacking a ship, nor adults plotting to blow-up an American city - - to bully the United States. President Obama had made the tough decision, the right decision, just as President Bush had. Yet today, President Obama has so much to gain, personally, by “hyping” his indignation over a previous President’s decisions.

I understand people’s skepticism about “the media.” But we should all be a bit more skeptical about the intentions of politicians.

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