Another Day in the Empire
October 5th, 2005
It’s like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, the Birds—or maybe a scene left on the cutting room floor. Birds are going to get us—not by attacking us directly, as in the Hitchcock movie, but through the H5N1 bird flu virus, also known as Avian influenza. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), H5N1 is of the “influenza pandemic” sort, that is to say it is different from seasonal outbreaks or “epidemics” of influenza. “Seasonal outbreaks are caused by subtypes of influenza viruses that are already in existence among people, whereas pandemic outbreaks are caused by new subtypes or by subtypes that have never circulated among people or that have not circulated among people for a long time. Past influenza pandemics have led to high levels of illness, death, social disruption, and economic loss,” the CDC assures us. In other words, it is the perfect disease for our autocratic rulers, forever angling to get rid of the barriers (the Constitution and the Bill of Rights) preventing them from further militarizing our society.
“I am just suggesting that we better be thinking about [H5N1],” Bush said yesterday. “And we are. And we’re more than thinking about it; we’re trying to put plans in place.” And what exactly are these plans? “The US military might have to quarantine areas of the United States if there was a serious outbreak of the deadly avian flu,” reports the Sydney Morning Herald. “Regional quarantine would raise difficult policy decisions and legal issues, but the possibility had to be discussed.” Naturally, the “possibility” is so great only the military would be able to address it. “It’s one thing to shut down your airplanes, it’s another thing to prevent people from coming in to get exposed to the avian flu,” said Bush. “To do this, we might have to use the military, which is able to plan and move.” In other words, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 stands in the way of saving American lives.
Bush failed to mention the fact H5N1 is at best a minor threat. “As of July 21, 2005, one hundred and nine cases of human infection have been confirmed resulting in fifty five deaths outside of China,” explains Wikipedia. “Thirteen countries across Asia and Europe have been affected. Additionally more than one hundred and twenty million birds have died from infection or been culled.” In other words, H5N1 is a pandemic among birds, not humans. Maybe Bush should call out the military and have them quarantine sparrows and finches and such, not entire U.S. cities or geographic regions. Even so, Bush tells us “that we better be thinking about” H5N1 and other pathogenic threats because we need to be sensitive to the possibility the military (or military contractors such as Blackwater) will be on our streets, going house to house, confiscating guns and forcibly evacuating people to “evacuee” camps.
Irwin Redlener, associate dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and director of its National Center for Disaster Preparedness, knows something about disaster and government response. “The translation of this is martial law in the United States,” Redlener told CNN. Gene Healy, of the Cato Institute, made mention of “traditional distrust of using standing armies to enforce order at home, a distrust that’s well-justified.”
Bush’s mention of H5N1 is part of a “robust discussion” underway to break down the legal barriers preventing the government from imposing martial law “in certain extreme circumstances.” Last month, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush “wants to make sure that we learn the lessons from Hurricane Katrina,” including the use of the military in “a severe, catastrophic-type event…. The Department of Defense would assume the responsibility for the situation, and come in with an overwhelming amount of resources and assets, to help stabilize the situation,” McClellan said.
As for the “lessons from Hurricane Katrina,” if the situation in New Orleans is any indication, the government will allow a hypothetical (and unlikely) bird flu pandemic to kill off large numbers of people (as it allowed flood waters to kill an as of yet undetermined—or never to be reported—number of people in New Orleans before it responded) and then send in Bush cronies and favored corporations, operating under no-bid and cost-plus contracts, to figure out how to chisel the government out of billions. Imagine M16-toting Blackwater mercenaries in biohazard suits patrolling the streets of your town with shoot-to-kill orders for all of those who violate imposed curfews or are caught “looting” food and water. If Bush gets his way, the 1866 Supreme Court ruling in Ex Parte Milligan limiting martial law will become a quaint historical oddity.
H5N1 is but another excuse to chip away at our constitutional liberties. Bush and crew want to send in the military because they are at war with the American people—or their constitutionally guaranteed liberties, anyway. The Army and Marines are trained to kill people and break things, not engage in mundane every-day law enforcement. Katrina, Rita, and the promised bird flu pandemic are stepping stones in an effort to erect a police state and militarily-imposed dictatorship in this country. After the Posse Comitatus is dismantled, Bush will be able to send the troops wherever he wants and for whatever reason, no matter how fallacious or exaggerated.