The end is extremely f-ing nigh

One reason: We're spending more on abstinence education than bird flu vaccine

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It's heartening to see the Strib pick up today's A.P. story about the imminent dangers of an avian bird flu epidemic--a variant of which killed about 2 percent of the human popultion in 1918. Because of a crumbling public health infrastructure, a similar calamity in the near future does not seem particularly farfetched. Ebola, anthrax and bioterrorism may be sexier fears, but the evidence suggests that a nasty outbreak of bird flu is much more likely to leave the morgues as crowded as a New York subway at rush hour.

Oddly enough, that was the unsually candid assessment of outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. Asked in his farewell address what public health problem most concerned him, Thomspon offered an uncharacteristically blunt reponse: a human flu pandemic.

"This is a really huge bomb that could adversely impact on the healthcare of the world," killing 30 million to 70 million people, Thompson said.

Such candor is appreciated. Too bad Thompson and his fellow Bushies have done so little to match the talk. As author Mike Davis points out in his harrowing Nation article (adopted from his fourthcoming book, The Monster at the Door):

In the 2005 fiscal year, for example, Thompson had allocated more funds to "abstinence education" than to the development of an avian influenza vaccine that might save millions of lives. This is but one example of the way that all Americans, but especially children, the elderly and the uninsured, have been placed in harm's way by the Bush regime's bizarre skewing of public-health priorities. On Thompson's watch, HHS and the Pentagon spent more than $12 billion to safeguard national security against largely hypothetical threats like smallpox and anthrax, even as they pursued a penny-pinching strategy to deal with the most dangerous and likely "bioterrorist": avian influenza. The Administration's lackadaisical response to the pandemic threat (despite Secretary Thompson's personal anxiety) is only the tip of the iceberg. Over the past generation, writes Lancet editor Richard Horton, "the U.S. public-health system has been slowly and quietly falling apart."

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