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Tuesday: Influenza as Infuence-ah

I waited for my mom to call yesterday.  Any minute now, I thought.  She was in hysterics over the bird flu epidemic that never materialized a few years back.  At the time, I had to patiently talk her off the ledge:  There are many steps from chickens to people.  First, it has to be virulent in the bird population.  Then it has to be transmissible to humans, no mean feat.  It helps if you live on a poultry farm.  Do you live on a poultry farm, Mum?  No?  Well, that’s a relief.  Then, when it jumps to humans, it could simply stop there.  That’s right, it doesn’t have to go any further.  To be transmissible *between* humans, it has to mutate again.  And to be really deadly, it has to be spread really easily.  More mutations.  I mean, Bush is jumping the gun but if you’re really worried, you can track the mutations of the virus sequence  on one of the federal health sites.

That calmed her down for about 2 days before the next *ping* from the department of homeland security.  She called yesterday afternoon at about 2:30pm with some chit chat about Memorial Day plans before she hit me up on the Swine Flu Panic of 2009.

This flu is different.  First of all, it helps if you keep swine in your backyard.  Boyfriends do not count.  It looks like it can be spread to people but in the end, it’s still just flu and despite the fact that it seems to be out of season and somewhat more debilitating, the standard rules apply:  Wash your hands, stay away from people who are sick, do not touch surfaces of things a sick person might have touched, if you get sick, see your doctor for any available anti-viral meds, blah, blah, blah.  The vaccine manufacturers are probably already on it.

So, it’s a health problem.  But a worldwide catastrophe of Armageddon like proportions with the horseman of death stalking the rolling green hills of central Pennsylvania?  Probably not.

What it may be is a way for Obama to get his HHS nominee appointed as quickly as possible without the Republicans sitting on the nomination and pointing out more culture war related inconveniences.  As the NYTimes reports in its editorial today:

While health officials scramble to keep up with the fast-moving virus, it is deeply disquieting that the Obama administration has few of its top health officials in place. The Senate, delayed by Republican objections, is finally scheduled to debate the confirmation of Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday to be secretary of health and human services. And the White House has yet to announce a nominee for director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those are two of the most important positions for dealing with an infectious disease epidemic.

Ok, this is ridiculous.  It is nearly May.  Obama was elected in November.  In six months, he hasn’t even got his cabinet in place?  He doesn’t have a head of the frickin’ CDC?    Please.  Do not tell me that this economic crisis has consumed so much of his time that he hasn’t put together a roster of people to fill the remaining slots.  He should have gotten that together back in June of last year.  What the hell is going on here?

So, this is what he’s reduced to: panicking the citizenry, just like Bush used to do, in order to get his way and leapfrog over the confirmation process.  Don’t get me wrong.  Republicans are reprehensible when they hold up nominations like this over trivialities and put us all at risk for a really serious problem.  But this is not a well run executive branch if its cabinet positions are still pending after 6 months.

Still, I’m only mildly surprised.  I never did have much faith in government by shmooze.

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