Anyone watching The Strain? It combines some real science with zombie/vampire stuff mixed in. What stuck me about the show was how realistic some parts were (like the first CDC team sweep of the plane) combined with a ridiculous number of people carrying the idiot ball. But the part that seems craziest is actually more realistic than people realize.

In this clip the CDC is overruled in a medical quarantine situation by the Director of Health and Human Services.

There is no way this would happen in real life in the US. I just can’t suspend my disbelief when they get stuff like this wrong. When it comes to people’s health the medical community always has the final say, like Bones had over Captain Kirk on the Enterprise.

But then I remembered when Christine Todd Whitman overruled the EPA and ignored the medical community and doctors’ advice regarding people working at ground zero after 9/11.

The EPA was not given full control over its press releases in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Administrator Whitman issued a memo on September 12 announcing that ‘all statements to the media should be cleared through the NSC [National Security Council] before they are released,’ and the New York Post reported that National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was ‘the final decision maker’ regarding the release of information by the EPA.6 In addition the OIG report details how the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) pressed the EPA to ‘add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones’ from agency press releases. For example, information discussing the potential health risk for ‘sensitive populations’ from exposure to particulate matter was discouraged from inclusion in a press release by a CEQ official, and language discussing detected levels of asbestos was softened. The involvement of NSC and CEQ officials raises questions as to whether public health concerns were trumped by political and security priorities.

–World Trade Center Rescue Workers Believed EPA, Ended Up Sick
Union of Concerned Scientists.

What were Whitman’s motives for downplaying the risk? “Political and security priorities.” Now of course the circumstances in that case were extraordinary. But decisions like this are made all the time under less extraordinary circumstances.

Ebola outbreak: Liberia shuts most border points

We are focusing on Ebola because it is news. We won’t get Ebola here in the US for a number of reasons. One reason is Ebola doesn’t have a good lobbying and PR firm. When it comes to infectious diseases, it helps to have people in high places. People who want to describe their pathogen as “naturally occurring,” who delay life saving performance standards, dictate which words doctors can use to describe a condition and most astonishingly, convince everyone the burden of protection is on the victims in order to avoid responsibility for their problems.

People in the US are not dying from Ebola, however they are dying from Salmonella, Listeria, Norovirus, Campylobacter spp, E.Coli O157:H7, and host of other food-borne pathogens.

Our doctors know that protecting the lives of the people is more important than the parts of economy that might be negatively affected in the short term. But as we see in this fictional show and in real life, sometimes the doctors aren’t in charge when it comes to prevention and spread of disease. What would seem outrageous behavior if it happened with one infectious disease is considered the “industry standard” when it comes to another.

We can dance around the reasons, but we should acknowledge that in our current unfettered capitalist world, human lives have a price. Some are more valuable than others. Until the correct number of “valuable” lives die in a splashy way, “the market” as a whole, and “shareholder value” often wins. But just like scary or sparkly vampires, we don’t have to buy into these myths. On the podcast, Virtually Speaking, Jay Ackroyd discusses the book, The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public with the author Lynn Stout.

Like vampires, corporations are not living entities. But these fictional creations wield a lot of power, are immortal and hold people in thrall to their ideas. They put their self interest and continued existence over the lives of the humans who created them, the ones they feed on, and those who serve them. 

Currently Reps. DeLauro and Slaughter have  introduced legislation to strengthen USDA’s power to protect public health. I ask you, who would be against protecting public health? What kind of hypnotic trance could dark, powerful entities exert over the people’s power to protect human lives? You know the answer.

This summer corporations will hire lobbyists to block laws so that science is ignored. If you attack a corporate entity for putting profits before people, you are seen as the unreasonable one, and may get sued and/or arrested. (Related: Journalists subpoenaed in Pink Slime maker’s lawsuit against news organizations)

We know how money power works on elected officials, but these entities don’t just use money, corporate lobbyists also twist facts and exploit myths many believe, such as “for-profit companies must maximize returns to shareholders.” The fact is that there is no legal requirement for for-profit companies to maximize returns to shareholders. Some push the myth that “The Market” will eventually fix the problem if government would just get out of their way. (This of course ignores the pile of sick, dead and dying humans needed to finally get”The Market” do its magic.)

I know vampires and zombies aren’t going to kill me, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t non-living creations out there whose human-directed actions can lead to my death. I try not to take it personally. It’s just business.