19,000 Americans died in hospitals and nursing homes in 2005. They were victims of a scary "superbug" -a bacterial staph infection for which there is now no known cure. Experts warn that we are facing a "medical typhoon" unless we act to contain this menace of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.
When I grew up, "superbug" was a colloquial term used as shorthand for certain Volkswagen cars. Not any more. Now we have a deadly threat considered worse than SARS, AIDS and Bird Flu. The invasion of the Superbugs has moved from the science fiction channel to page one. It is a spectre that may yet define our era.
Especially frightening is that we only learned of this deadly epidemic involving a horrific flesh-eating disease two years after its serial killing spree began. Nineteen thousand people dead, maybe more, and 'nobody knew nothin.' No doubt they didn't want to alarm us.
More disturbing is that all these people died were in hospitals and nursing homes, places where they expected to get care and cures---not contract a life ending superrbug.
And this is not the only medical super problem. Doctor Paul Farmer warned in l999 of the spread of multidrug-resistant TB in the prisons of the former Soviet Union. Now this is a major problem in Africa. Did you know that "One-third of the world's population, 1.7 billion people, have TB in Latent form; a person infected with the organism has a 10 percent risk of developing active TB sometime in his or her life."
Has the concept of the "superbug" become a metaphor for our times, a sign that our institutions set up to solve problems are making them worse, and that our press is hopelessly behind in telling us about other superbugs and calamities threatening our world?
A superbug of big bully WARITIS seems endemic in high places where talk of World War III and attacking Iran follows the same pattern from the Iraq playbook of well-orchestrated message points A compliant media seems willing to disseminate as if there are no dots to connect or context to offer.
Last Sunday, a 60 Minutes report showed millions of acres burning in the American West. Firefighters said these forest fires have been getting worse for ten years
Why are we only finding out about the "superbug" of forest destruction now?
Oil is another issue. For years, the Administration scoffed at suggestions that the Iraq war was motivated by the need to control more oil reserves. The media scoffed at critics who chanted "no blood for oil" while politicians were in denial. And then, none other than former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan asserted that oil was always a main motivator. At that, the media and the government went silent as if attacked by a superbug of amnesia.
Ditto for the suggestion that oil production was peaking. Nonsense said the oil companies when the suggestion was made. They seemed gripped by a superbug of certainty. The Peak Oil argument was dismissed by insiders as doom and gloom conspiracy speculation. And then, just this week, the Guardian cited a new report to confirm a fear that had repeatedly been dismissed by the cognoscenti:
"World oil production has already peaked and will fall by half as soon as 2030, according to a report that also warns that extreme shortages of fossil fuels will lead to wars and social breakdown."
Let's blame this information lag on the superbug of deception.
An Inconvenient Truth, the award-winning film featuring the award-winning politician Al Gore showed us icebergs melting. Why did it take an independent documentary to graphically show us the "superbug" of climate change? Where was the news media? Perhaps "reporting" on Britney or OJ Simpson?
In 2004 and earlier, the wizards of Wall Street started underwriting subprime loans and SIVS-Structured Investment Vehicles-to transfer billions of dollars from poorer Americans to wealthier ones.
A superbug of greed invaded the world of finance.
Few journalists warned of the danger to the borrowers who are now facing foreclosures by the tens of thousands. The regulators and ratings agencies and commissars of business ethics were silent. The media pumped up the myth of a buouyant economy rather than expose the scams that would in a few short years unravel the markets and deepen inequality.
Writes Holly Sklar: "Until 2005, multimillionaires could still make the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. In 2006, the Forbes 400 went billionaires only. When the Forbes 400 began in 1982, it was dominated by oil and manufacturing fortunes. Today, says Forbes, "Wall Street is king."
And what are the consequences? She writes: "The 25th anniversary of the Forbes 400 isn't party time for America. We have a record 482 billionaires -- and record foreclosures.
We have a record 482 billionaires -- and a record 47 million people without any health insurance.
Since 2000, we have added 184 billionaires -- and 5 million more people living below the poverty line."
This superbug of greed went largely undetected by the TV channels and business news outlets. Now, as a crisis ripens with parallels to 1929 on the lips of sober pundits, we have a new superbug on the horizon: the superbug of mindless "news" designed to divert our attention from what is really happening
In the guise of reporting on business, we have Fox's new fusion of porn and partriotism pumped out by a bimbocracy of chatter and well-calculated false optimism as Jim Nocera observed in the New York Times.
One minute Fox was doing a segment that included a $1 million diamond; the next it was giving tips on how to avoid foreclosure. It would home in on the stock market and then report on the death of a teenager in Virginia from a staph infection, reports that included several truly silly efforts to frame the tragedy as a business story. On Tuesday afternoon, while CNBC was dissecting Intel's earnings, Fox was running its "Happy Hour" show, which is set in a bar. A co-host named Cody, a dude so hip he doesn't tuck his shirt in, was interviewing a random customer about his plans for Christmas spending. "Expensive chocolates," was the man's reply.
So what superbug is at work here? Perhaps a superbug of bullshit. But it doesn't seem to matter as more money is invested in more ways to spend money and divert attention from the dangers we face. Ads and promos legitimize this information abortion.
Clearly we need antidotes to all of these superbugs. And they have go beyond washing your hands and/or allowing your brain to be washed. Cure-all products won't help either, writes Mike Adams on NewsTarget.com
I think this antibacterial products sham has gone way too far. Yesterday I was shopping at Office Depot, and guess what I found? Antibacterial pencils. Yes, it's true. I found some mechanical pencils made by PaperMate that have an antibacterial coating... We've seen antibacterial hand soaps and dish soaps, shampoos and all sorts of other personal care and cleaning products. And we've seen all the bad news about this, as well, including the fact that they are completely and utterly useless at actually protecting people from germs, viruses or contagious disease."
So where should we start in combating these many superbug menaces?
Truthful disclosure might be a good beginning. More vigilant journalism would help along with a clearer appreciation that there are often unanticipated consequences of programs launched with the best of intentions.
But most of all we need a national outcry to move the masses, push the media and press the politicians to speak out before some new bacteria turns you and me into breakfast.