Fear and Looting in Washington, DC

It is not the lethality of a potentially mutated avian virus that I question but the timing of the president's remarks.
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Welcome to another edition of "Fear and Looting in Washington, DC." For those of you who like puzzles, the answer to today's $7.1 billion question is hidden in the following letter scramble: dumond rsfel.

Now back to our show.

If nothing else, this administration has remained consistently good at changing the subject whenever troubling news threatens to cloud the national horizon. Large doses of fear, regularly administered through a stream of well-timed public announcements (remember the "threat meter"), have been the cure for most of Bush's presidential ailments. Not coincidentally, perhaps, the dangers so regularly identified by this president also seem particularly amenable to solution through multibillion-dollar government contracts awarded to Bush friends and allies.

It was therefore not a complete surprise when, with the UAE port takeover and the president's Nixonian poll numbers dominating the headlines, a blurb about dead flamingos in the Bahamas suddenly pushed its way into the public consciousness. It is not known what killed the birds though "bird flu" is one possibility among many others.

Recall that "bird flu" first became a major news story last fall when the president, still suffering the public outcry over his administration's negligence during hurricane Katrina, announced a $7.1 billion initiative to combat "this danger to our homeland" which "could spread quickly across the globe." While admitting there was no evidence of an "imminent" pandemic, the president proceeded to scare the country with a recitation of 1918 horrors reminiscent of the "mushroom cloud" that his administration postulated to justify the Iraq invasion.

Of course, if it were to mutate and become airborne, "bird flu" would certainly pose a serious global health problem. But the operative word here is "if." Because the genetic code which controls whether the "bird flu" virus becomes airborne (and thus really dangerous) has not yet been isolated, scientists cannot accurately predict the likelihood of a dangerous outbreak. The chances today are the same as they were when Bush was first sworn in, which are the same as they were sixty, or even a hundred, years ago. It is not the lethality of a potentially mutated avian virus that I question but the timing of the president's remarks and, as with all things Bush, the beneficiary of the proposed solution.

Which brings us back to the $7.1 billion question. Would it surprise anyone by now to learn that a very prominent member of the Bush inner circle was, in the years immediately prior to taking his present post in the administration, the chairman of the company (Gilead Sciences, Inc.) that developed and now licenses the avian-flu drug Tamiflu? Would it surprise anyone to learn that the same person continues to hold millions of dollars in Gilead stock today? Or that $2 billion of the president's "Bird Flu" initiative went to purchase Tamiflu tablets at $100 a pop? Would anyone be surprised to learn that the administration's interest in Tamiflu and in "Bird Flu" in general has had a profound effect on Gilead's stock price over the past year? Or to see that spikes in price and volume since the summer coincide almost directly with the administration's dire pronouncements?

I didn't think so. So have you solved the puzzle yet? Post your answers and win another round of shame as you play today's edition of "Fear and Looting in Washington, DC."

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