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Monday, October 24, 2016

Even if Africa’s Ebola emergency never mutates into a global catastrophe, those of us who live in the world’s most fortunate country ought to consider what this fearsome virus can teach us. The lessons are quite obvious at this point – and contain implications that are political in the most urgent sense.

The Tea Party mania for shrinking federal budgets and rejecting international organizations — both of which are bedrock policy among the current Republican leadership – is not only bad for our national prestige but exceptionally dangerous to our health. At the insistence of House leaders whose answer to every problem has been cutting government and reducing taxes, the United States has steadily starved the budgets of the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

The disturbing consequence is that in both this country and the world, humanity lacks the full arsenal of weapons needed to combat Ebola and other potentially devastating outbreaks of tropical disease.

Politicians who identify themselves as “conservative” have failed in their duty to conserve the nation’s public health infrastructure, built over decades of hard scientific work with many millions of taxpayer dollars, precisely to cope with an emergency such as Ebola. Instead they have proposed budgets that would decimate every federal agency that protects us, including the CDC.  And the budget deal that they enacted, which depends on sequestration, has led to severe, ham-handed cutbacks in the programs that protect us.

Testifying in Congress a few weeks ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said that sequestration has inflicted “a significant impact. It has both in an acute and a chronic, insidious way, eroded our ability to respond…to these emerging threats.” He said that the cuts have been “particularly damaging” to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which he directs – and which is responsible, he noted, for “responding on a dime to an emerging infectious disease threat.”

Specifically, sequestration forced the NIH to shave its budget by $1.55 billion, or 5 percent, in 2013, according to Mother Jones magazine. That may not sound like a lot – and it is nothing in terms of closing deficits – but it can be ruinous during an emergency when an agency is suddenly scrambling for every dollar.

The CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases – meaning those that can be transmitted between species – also suffered severe cuts. The center lost $13 million last year, according to Dr. Beth Bell, its director, who pleaded with Congress to increase funding sharply.

Sequestration took a similar toll on U.S. spending for international aid – a budget category that American voters tend to assume is roughly 20 times more than the measly 1 percent or so that it actually represents. The Tea Party mentality that wildly exaggerates how much we spend abroad is just as ignorant about the importance and usefulness of that spending.

“If even modest investments had been made to build up a public health infrastructure in West Africa previously, the current Ebola epidemic could have been detected earlier, and it could have been identified and contained,” testified Dr. Bell. But the sequester cut global health programs by $411 million and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which oversees most of our foreign aid, by $289 million.

The World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations that forms the front line of disease defense in Africa, has likewise suffered massive budget reductions, at the very moment when its services may be most needed. In 2010, the United States paid $280 million toward the WHO’s operating costs; by 2013, that contribution was cut by nearly a quarter, to $215 million. But much of that money is earmarked for specific programs, when what the WHO needs in an emergency like Ebola is unrestricted funding.

Cutting funds to the WHO surely thrilled congressional Republicans, Tea Party leaders, and everyone else in this country who expresses irrational hostility toward the UN. But that was a very perilous way to gratify our country’s isolationist faction, which evidently cannot understand that this is one planet – and that the fates of its peoples are inseparably joined.

If we want to improve our security, if we want our children to live in safety, it is long past time to rid Washington of the partisan enemies of strong, competent government and international cooperation. We don’t yet know the full cost of their mindless actions, but if we are unlucky, it could be incalculable.

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Copyright 2014 The National Memo
  • Dominick Vila

    There are many things that can be learned from the spread of the Ebola virus and the death of thousands of people in Africa. Among them is the wisdom of helping impoverished countries attain basic human necessities to rid the world of malnutrition, educate the young, make potable water and electricity available to everyone, and put in place a healthcare system designed to eradicate diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, polio, and deadly viruses such as the Ebola.
    Obviously, the USA cannot and should not attempt to undertake such an endeavor alone, but it is about time for all industrialized nations to understand the value and the benefits of helping others overcome daunting challenges they cannot do alone, instead of selling them weapons to advance our global interests.
    Our foreign aid should be directed at humanitarian causes rather than the advancement of geo-political goals and economic interests. Unfortunately, that’s not about to happen any time soon. As long as the plutocracy that dominates the global economy, own most of the global wealth, and control most facets of life is allowed to rule with impunity, real progress in improving quality of life and achieving stability at a global level will remain a chimera.

    • sigrid28

      I’m having whiplash trying to decide between appropriate adages to account for the way the U.S. is wasting time and money when it comes to staunching the advance of Ebola. These two seem to apply: “A stitch in time saves nine” vs. “Penny wise, pound foolish.” I seize on the topic of common sense because even Tea Partiers and other information-challenged Americans on the far right know these nursery rhymes by heart and could recite them. What they cannot do, it seems, is figure out how to apply even basic folk logic when it comes to Ebola, a topic that scares them silly, no thanks to Fox News quasi-scientific fear-mongering and Republicans like Ran Paul–a doctor, no less–who invoke the Black Plague. I’m sure some ignorant Republicans think when Paul mentions the Black Plague he is talking about post-racial American society and our first black president. Thanks to science-denying Republicans in Congress we’re wasting the little money we have to throw at the problem of Ebola here and in Africa, and–worse yet–wasting precious time. I think the president’s executive orders will have to be relied upon to slow down a crisis that could overtake us, tea party and all. Even rich plutocrats, confident in the many ways they deserve their privileges, cannot count on being immune to Ebola or insulated from the scourge of it, if a pandemic develops. How can they no see it and take action now?

  • FT66

    Like one person ( I don’t want to mention his name here) one time said: “Corporations are people my friends”! I also say government is people and vice versa. These two depend on each other. You can’t have a government without people and people without a government. People make the government, and the government has to work for them. There are major issues which are beyond anyone’s capability and can’t be solved by having a small government such as: the break out of unexpected disease that claims lives of many, in this case EBOLA; terrorism; and mother nature.

  • howa4x

    What it is going to take is a large pandemic outbreak that kills thousands for the republicans to wake up. Then people will see that cutting the budget of CDC and NIH was a catastrophe and will hold the republicans accountable. Ebola is more media hype than public health threat. It is not an airborne virus and can only be spread by contact with fluids. It spreads in Africa mostly due to poor and inadequate sanitation where human waste is not disposed of in a sanity manner and allows people to come in contact with it. It also spreads by the handling of infected people with out protective equipment. I used to be in public health and learned about this virus long ago. WE have too many assets here to stop the spread. If you want to worry about something try a virile strain of flu that spreads from person to person rapidly. The response to that will push the public health infrastructure to the breaking point and no matter who is in power they will have to get the resources to respond. States with poor health outcomes like the deep south will suffer the highest death rate in a pandemic, so who will the republican’s hurt? No one but themselves.

    • Sand_Cat

      No: anything that kills Republicans will obviously be Obama’s fault, just like everything bad in world history. Why would you think ANYTHING could wake up these morons?

  • 2ThinkN_Do2

    What is the “real” cause? What is the reason for the “cause”? To solve the issue we must get to the “root”.

    • curious11

      Gee, you sound so profound! Thanks for the wisdom.

      • 2ThinkN_Do2

        Wrong answer . . .

  • curious11

    In response to “howa4x”, Ebola is not affecting the U.S. on the Republicans’ watch, but rather Obama’s. Item, enterovirus 68 is known to be wide spread in Central America, but yet he welcomes with open arms thousands of ill children. It’s projected ebola will also land in central America; so, will he continue his open border policy? Item: Obama has failed (even at this juncture) to rally civilized countries to work together to find a cure. By contrast, notice the quick action Governor Perry took regarding the border and ebola. Duncan’s death is very unfortunate; but moreso, it’s a wake-up call for all of us. We live in a very fragile world where personal choices matter. Ebola has been around since 1974, when it first surfaced. The choice of the “civilized world” was to just see it play out. Well now it’s playing out big time, and it’s time for everyone to sit back, listen, take precautions, and stop playing the blame game.

    • ericlipps

      Item: “thousands of ill children”? These children are fleeing violence, not pestilence. Or do you assume they must be diseased because they’re brown-skinned?

      • Lizinbklyn

        Ignorance is bliss to the cons . . .

        • joe schmo

          Just can’t see how we are ignorant. We see things for what they are. 10 years, 20 years down the road you may look back and say, ‘what have I done.’ I have helped destroy the greatest nation there ever was. It’s coming at you quicker and quicker, if you blink it may disintegrate before your very eyes and, wham, it’s gone. You only will have yourselves to blame. Thank you for your insidiousness.

    • Sand_Cat

      You guys have been “projecting” a lot of stuff lately, mostly your own faults and bad ideas. The Korans supposedly found at the Mexican border weren’t enough: kids fleeing murder were going to bring Ebola. You have no end of lies, most of them stupid and transparently obvious.

      • joe schmo

        …and you walk around in your rose colored ‘people of the world glasses’, evading any form of common sense. I cannot wait until the day comes when the sh*$ really hits the fan as it is beginning to. You will be so sorry….

  • Whatmeworry

    What we have learned is once again Barak isn’t up to the task. Rather than forcing a travel ban for western Africa he punts and has placed our citizens at risk.
    Now rather than dispatching the CDC or demanding that WHO send all their resources to west Africa he’s sending our military. This isn’t a job for the military and the folks making $200-500K a year a WHO and CDC should be sent there instead

    • Lizinbklyn

      This is EXACTLY what the military is trained for. Do some reading.

      • Whatmeworry is Dan M Ketter

        Ole danno’s extent of military training was 2.1 years as a desk clerk in the air national guard, just a few weekends, but never activated. He reads plenty of slanted newspapers and GOP press releases to validate his arguments.

      • Whatmeworry

        Really?? Have you read who has been sent so far?? Didn’t think so

    • Sand_Cat

      No, what we learned is that no human suffering is sufficient to shame creeps like you into refraining from exploiting it for political gain.

      • joe schmo

        Political gain! Just who is using it for that. When the jeopardy of a whole Nation is at stake, you foolish un=American globalists don’t care and would rather save the leper and bring him into a healthy society for all to become ill. How stupid is that.

      • Whatmeworry

        So we jeopardies 300M Americans so Barak can pump his chest about his Africa intervention?? If he is that committed why isn’t Michelle there??

    • Whatmeworry is Dan M Ketter

      and it’s the world according to dannnnno….

    • runnerin1

      Wow, you’re really smart….I guess you think the only people that are in Africa now are African’s. Do you have any idea how your ridiculous idea would negatively impact this world? Do you have any idea who is on the African Continent now that would be affected by your lunacy?

      • Whatmeworry

        Who cares how it would affect Africa…it would have O impact on the rest of the world

  • Allan Richardson

    In the book of Exodus, at one point in the series of plagues, Pharaoh gets angry at Moses and the Hebrews, and tells the brick making crews they will no longer get straw already gathered, they have to gather the straw for the bricks themselves, but still produce the same quota of bricks every day.

    That is what the Tea Party is like: the Pharaoh who denies the resources needed to do a good job, then wants to “whip” the workers when the job is not done to his satisfaction. Ultimately, as we know, that Pharaoh lost.

  • joe schmo

    That God is not all that happy with his humans at the moment….. Aids was only the tip of the iceberg…..

    • BillP

      Did he tell you this directly or are you just intuiting this bs. You right wing trolls love to claim religion as your own but the crap you write on this site shows your lack of intelligence, caring and decency. You are jus a whiny little person who feels left out of the game. Go back and talk with your “wealthy” daddy little boy!

  • Jack

    Well! well! I wondered where the big liberal Joe Conason would show up with all his liberal nonsense, it seems he is now a expert on Ebola and it’s cause and cure. It didn’t take him long to blame the opposite party for the disease.
    I didn’t read one word about Obama yet again passing the buck as he always does to someone else he can blame to white was himself once again for all blame on Ebola on it’s spread.

    Not belonging to either the dems or repubs it doesn’t take a Einstein to know an election is on the horizon and the blame game is in high gear on both sides, but the truth is both sides are just blowing off steam to see who gets to skewer the public again.

    So far we have had almost 7 years of failures by the Obama administration, and this latest screw up could be the icing on the cake for the left wing know it all’s.
    The only thing that will straighten out this country is a complete make over of the U.S. Congress, we need to fire all 535 career politicians and vote in 535
    non-political people, and if we don’t all we will get is more incompetence, fraud and failed policies.

    Then get rid of all Lobbyist’s that provide the graft to the willing members of Congress. Then install Term Limits to all elected offices, if we fail to do so then we are in for the Same Old, Same Old corruption that has been going on since WW1, but most important of all is to eliminate all money from the election system.
    Failure to initiate all these measures will have as much chance of correcting the fraud and corruption as a Snow Ball in Hell, if not we are back to square one.