As long as I’m getting all biblical on you folks, I suppose I ought to update you on the latest on our modern plague – and the mischief our government is getting up in the name of protecting us from same.
School has started early in a fair number of southern towns and counties because system administrators are worried about H1N1 preventing the kids from logging in the required number of days.
This prophecy is proving to be self-fulfilling, as the very best place for kids to get flu is in our schools’ classrooms, lunchrooms, bathrooms and playgrounds. Already the CDC is reporting a spike in reported H1N1 cases in the South and Southeast.
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Last weekend, I happened past the stack of school supplies my wife has been accumulating in the family room. For the past few years, there have been two separate heaps: the stuff that belongs strictly to our children, like notebooks and pencils, and our contribution to the classroom’s “community supplies,” i.e. items that the schools can no longer afford to provide like markers and crayons, colored paper, sheet music and tissues.
This year, I noted two conspicuous additions: A half dozen containers of sanitizing wipes and two boxes of paper “dust” masks. I asked my wife if we picked these items off an a-la-carte list, like some kind of strange potluck dinner. She said, “No, each family is supposed to send these in, just in case.”
“Just in case” my rump! The schools are expecting a genuine siege this year. The New York City school system – the largest in the country, population-wise – will attempt to inoculate each and every first through sixth grader.
Many other systems will try to follow suit – if they can. The chief concern here? Which will arrive first, the new vaccines or the flu itself?
The Latest From the Committee for State Security
The schools are not the only ones fretting about potential disruptions. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is warning that we should expect “a big influx” of flu cases this fall, and ought to prepare as best we can. She specifically advises that we wash our hands and cough into our sleeves: “We’re in all likelihood going to have them before the vaccine is available.”
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There are three very worrisome things about this statement. The first is that we have a “Homeland Security Secretary” in the first place. I’m sorry, but every time I hear that title, it brings to mind Stalin and Mao’s penchant for “Committees for the Protection of Ourselves from Ourselves.” It just creeps me out.
The second is that this statement came not from the CDC or the Surgeon General or NIH, or such, but rather from the head of internal security. The implication here is that this may be a serious threat to social order.
And the third is that the best they can come up with is that we should refrain from coughing on each other. I mean, come on! Don’t parents teach children to cover their mouths? Or is that too restrictive and “old school,” like spanking children who run out into the street? (Seriously, you can go to jail for that in California and Massachusetts.)
The New “Germ Police”
Speaking of our coercive friends in the “Bay State,” Massachusetts has decided that the Feds are not quite stepping up enough when it comes to the complete abrogation of privacy rights.
So they currently are pushing a bill through their legislature that will enable health emergency shock troops to forcefully quarantine citizens, compel vaccinations, and allow unwarranted forceful entry into private dwellings and the involuntary destruction of citizen property.
Massachusetts’ State Senate has already passed “Pandemic Response Bill 2028.” When it clears the House, citizens who refuse to comply with isolation or quarantine orders will be imprisoned for up to 30 days and fined $1,000 per day that the violation continues.
What’s That Line About Absolute Power?
Just in case you don’t see where this is going, lines 134-136 requires state and local agencies to exercise powers over transportation routes, communication devices, carriers, public utilities, fuels, food, clothing and shelter for the duration of the emergency.
Lines 228-241 require anyone who suspects a neighbor or passerby of being infected or simply having an unnamed “health condition,” or thinks they know of a “suspicious event” to report it to the central authorities under penalty of fines and/or imprisonment. The good news? Line 238 protects anyone who rats out his or her least favorite neighbor from prosecution or lawsuit so long the report was made “in good faith.”
The bill is considered by some to be a model for legislatures countrywide, and perhaps even Washington. Others fret that it gives carte blanche for busybody commissariats to exercise power beyond their wildest dreams.
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But this is, after all, supposed to be a column about investing, rather than a soap box from which I can vent spleen. So here is my reminder that only a few companies are positioned to profit from this latter-day biblical plague.
There are the usual suspects – AstraZeneca (AZN:NYSE), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK:NYSE), Novartis (NVS:NYSE), and Sanofi-Aventis (SNY:NYSE) – all lined up to deliver the much sought-after H1N1 vaccine. Current gains for WOW readers’ options on GSK have been hanging around 194% in recent days.
But then there are some rather unusual profiteers, like Google (GOOG:NASDAQ), which is setting up Internet tracking systems that detect chatter about illness both in public blogs and chat rooms and supposedly private communications.
Of course, Google swears that it would never actually tell the authorities that you weren’t feeling well, right?
Not unless they were somehow compelled to, and protected from suit for doing so.
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