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This Little Piggy April 27, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Economy, Health Care, Obama Administration, Politics, Public Health.
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Public Health officials in Valencia, Spain

Public Health officials in Valencia, Spain

I just got back from California.  I was at a family funeral, so it was difficult to see the news or know what was happening in the world because you’re so busy and distracted by everything else.  It was not until I was waiting for my flight to be called – as I sat watching CNN in the SanFrancisco airport on Saturday – that I learned of the latest terrible scourge rolling up from Mexico.

Swine Flu.

Let me digress for a moment and let you know that I have a positively full-blown phobia about the flu.  Ever since I read The Stand, by Stephen King, I have been convinced that the world will end by influenza.  The SARS and bird flu epidemics gave me anxiety attacks for weeks. 

Since I was not able to get more than bits and pieces of the reports, imagine my pounding heart and sweaty palms by the time I arrived back at home in Buffalo.  My husband groaned when I asked for details.  “There’s only been a handful of cases,” he sighed.  “Nobody here in the U.S. has died.  The news is just blowing it all out of proportion.”  I went to bed and rested easy – until yesterday morning, that is. 

I awoke to the news that the United States has declared a public health emergency and is moving 12 million doses of Tamiflu out of federal stockpiles.  The EU has asked its citizens to ban travel to the U.S. and Mexico.  And in Mexico, the hardest hit by the Swine Flu, 2000 residents have sickened and 146 people have died.  The United States currently has 40 confirmed cases. 

The government, to its credit, is warning the citizens of the symptoms of the Swine Flu and is encouraging people to seek treatment if they develop symptoms.  Apparently, Customs and Border Patrol agents will begin looking for symptoms at southern border crossings as well.  The response so far seems careful and measured.  What are not careful, however, are the breathless news reports everywhere you turn.  Our local news last night spent 10 minutes of a half-hour broadcast talking about the flu and if we were ready to do battle.  There are doctors showing up on the national morning talk shows to discuss the “possible pandemic” and the cable news shows are also leading Swine Flu. 

Its enough to make a paranoiac run to the ER.

And that’s the problem.  The hyper-vigilant, ever-present flu story has the potential to swell emergency rooms and clinics around the country with people like me.  Seriously, you wouldn’t know from watching the news that people are not dying en masse.  The media needs to show restraint when reporting these stories.  Is it important?  Yes.  Does it deserve the lead every hour of every news cast on every day?  No.  That’s how you incite a panic.

All I know is that if I eat a bad clam – I can’t be responsible for the consequences.

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Taking It To The Streets March 28, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Economy, European Union, G20, National Politics, Politics, Unions, Women's Issues.
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g201Tens of thousands of people representing trade unions, charities, environmental groups and churches marched on London today in advance of the G20 summit this week.  The protesters –  estimated at about 35,000 – are demanding jobs, economic justice, punishment for the bankers that caused the world economic meltdown, and protection for the environment.  Similar protests were held in Berlin and Paris.  The London protest takes place against the backdrop of a deepening global recession and growing public anger over bankers’ pay and the painful fallout from the crisis. The marchers are pushing for a more transparent and democratic economic recovery plan.

Though some anarchist groups are threatening violence, the marches so far have been peaceful – yet raucous.  Much of the protestors’ anger has been aimed at the United States; since Wall Street is the dominant world exchange, failures and excesses on Wall Street are viewed as the problem.  US Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday asked the thousands of protesters to give governments a chance to tackle the economic crisis.  “I would hope that the protesters give us a chance, listen to what we have to say and hopefully we can make it clear to them that we’re going to walk away from this G20 meeting with some concrete proposals,” Biden said at a news conference after a meeting of center-left politicians in Chile.  Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero added that  deep financial reforms were vital to avert a another financial meltdown.  “We have to democratize the economy, globalization and the financial system. How to do this? We already know: with information, transparency and responsibility,” Zapatero said.

This is why I am so fond of the European community.  They get out in the streets, they carry signs, they agitate for change and reforms.  The closest we’ve been to a populist rebellion since the 1999 Seattle WTO protests is getting pissed off over the AIG bonuses last week.  Even then, there was no large-scale organized protest.  We just had a bunch of really angry people calling radio talk shows and Twittering Rick Sanchez at CNN. 

Pathetic.

Why don’t Americans take to the streets?  The protest march is one of the foundations of Democracy – the people making sure their voices are heard.  Are we just too lazy?  Are we too tired?  What is bad enough to make us give a shit?  

I think Americans don’t protest because we’re afraid.  We’re afraid that if we take a couple days off to march on Washington we’ll lose our jobs.  We’re afraid that our bosses might spot us in the crowd on the evening news and we’ll lose our jobs.  We’re afraid that if we express an opinion different from that of our company, we’ll lose our jobs.  Too much of our life’s security is dependent upon our jobs in America.  Lose your job, lose your health insurance – and getting sick will surely send you to the poorhouse.  Lose your job, lose your house – and hope you have a car you can live in because our public housing and shelters are totally inadequate.  Lose your job, lose your car – and not only will you not have a place to crash, you won’t be able to get around to look for a job because our public transit systems suck.  Our fear controls every aspect of our lives – especially our economic decisions.

In European Social Democracies, people can protest because they have a safety net provided by their governments as their birthright.  THAT’S the issue we Americans need to take to the streets.