We saw in the case of the New Orleans flood control levees, that despite a 2001 FEMA report detailing that a major hurricane hitting New Orleans was one of the 'three most likely, catastrophic disasters' that could hit the United States, funding for the levees were cut in order to finance Iraq, tax cuts, and some of President Bush's other priorities. Now it turns out that the same has been true of the funding for the Center for Disease Control, as the spectre of an Avian flu outbreak which could dwarf the 1918 pandemic which killed over 20 million people comes into focus.
Other countries have been stockpiling antiviral medicines. It turns out, however, that the United States has only enough for 2.3 million people. There is a plan unveiled recently in response to the Avian flu threat to build up the stockpile to cover 20 million (IF there is time to do so), but that is expected to take years, years which we may not have, and in any case, it may not even be enough.
So why do we have these kinds of problems, in New Orleans and with antiviral medication?
Call it a failure of conservatism.
I don't blame conservatives personally, but rather the philosophy which leads them to believe that government is overfed, needs to be slashed, and that any problem that is non-military in nature, can be better served by the private sector.
Of course, this is nonsense. There is no profit to be made in stockpiling drugs which may be used this year, or they may not be needed for several more years. There is no profit to be made in providing them at all to poor people without health insurance (the price for a course of the antiviral medication oseltamivir, marketed by Roche as Tamiflu and one of the two known antiviral medications known to be effective in treating Avian flu, is $75 in the US). There is no profit to be made in selling it ahead of products like Viagra or diet pills that earn the pharmaceutical companies billions. But in a case like this, it should not be about profit, but about the responsibility of Government to protect its citizens.
This is where conservatives fail. In a national emergency like this, people should be able to turn to the one institution that is supposed to have both the authority and the ability to access anyplace in the country: the Federal Government. But as we saw six weeks ago, and are seeing again here, that the successes of conservatives to cut, delay and hamstring the Government has weakened it to the point of ineffectiveness.
Then today, we learn, that whoever the fault may have been for the infighting between FEMA and the governor of Louisiana in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, 9,000 homes meant for victims have been parked, uselessly, in a Birmingham, Alabama staging lot for six weeks. SIX WEEKS! Hard to blame that on the governor of Louisiana, it is pure and simple, incompetence on the part of FEMA.
When conservatives win, everyone loses.