Poll-Security Spending; Iran Sanctions; FEMA Responses; Flu Pandemic

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Good morning. It’s Thursday, September 20, 2018. One hundred years ago today, the Helena Independent, a newspaper in Montana’s capital city, ran a foreboding article. An influenza epidemic had hit the United States, the paper reported, and was spreading rapidly in Boston.

New England is a long way from the Mountain West, but the way this strain of the virus had arrived in that Eastern city -- from U.S. Navy sailors coming home from World War I -- must have given Helena Independent readers a chill.

First of all, the previous winter had been a particularly lethal flu season -- and Montana hadn’t been spared. As the war in Europe wound down, finally, American soldiers, sailors, and Marines were coming home to towns all over this country, Montana included. This version of the flu, which we now know to be the second of three waves in the great worldwide pandemic of 1918-1919, came on its victims suddenly and was often fatal. And it spread rapidly and quickly.

 I’ll have more on this medical holocaust in a moment. First, I’d direct you, as I do each weekday, to our front page, which aggregates an array of columns and stories spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors this morning, including the following:

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Dubious Poll-Security Spending: It’s Got the Government’s Vote. Alarmed about potential election interference, the federal government is doing what it does best -- showering money on the problem, Steve Miller reports for RealClearInvestigations.

Europe’s Leading Corporations Bow to U.S. Sanctions in Iran. In RealClearWorld, David Adesnik and Saeed Ghasseminejad spotlight a survey that found 52 companies whose finances are tied to the dollar suspending or severing business in Iran.

A Better Deal for Public Lands and the Public. In RealClearEnergy, Gregory Morris warns the Trump administration not to saddle the domestic oil and gas industry with land leases it isn’t interested in. 

Americans Came Together in Response to Hurricanes. Also in RCE, Rick Perry highlights public and private efforts to restore power following the devastation wreaked by Irma and Maria last year.

Five Facts: Famous and Infamous FEMA Responses. The bipartisan group No Labels provides this overview in RealClearPolicy.

Two Visions for Market-Based Health Care Reform. Also in RCPolicy, James C. Capretta weighs the pros and cons.

The Right Medicine for Drug Prices. In RealClearHealth, Cybele Bjorklund outlines a plan to reduce costs.

Assisted Suicide Is the Wrong Prescription. Also in RCH, Joseph E. Marine asserts that physician-assisted suicide will damage public trust in the health professions.

Don’t Fear Job-Taking Robots. Fear Those Who Fear Robots. RealClearMarkets editor John Tamny argues that technology is by nature a job destroyer, but also one that frees people to take on bigger and more satisfying tasks.

When Attractive Actresses Go “Full Monster.” In RealClearLife, Thelma Adams assesses critics’ reaction to two new films in which Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy, respectively, tar the basis of their appeal to audiences.

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Just three days after the Helena Independent reported on the flu pandemic breaking out in Boston, Montana had its first victim, a 3-year-old boy on the Blackfeet Indian reservation. Two days later, a 15-year-old girl in a ranching town on the Canadian border and an 86-year-old farmer in Great Falls were felled.

Before the week was out, five more people in northeastern Montana died. One was a pregnant mother; another a 6-month-old infant. Even then a pattern emerged: For reasons not fully understood to this day, the influenza sweeping across North America in the autumn of 1918 was even more virulent among healthy adults in the prime of life. The victims that week included two women in their 20s, a 37-year-old railroad man, and a 40-year-old ranch hand.

“These eight mortalities began a tsunami of death across Montana,” wrote researchers Todd Harwell, Greg Holzman, and Steven Helgerson nearly a century later. As the bodies piled up in Montana, other anomalies became evident: This flu was also deadlier to Indians than whites, and more lethal for men than women.

But the true horror of this virus was how undiscriminating, overall, it was: The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one-third of the human beings on our planet were exposed to the virus, and that it killed one in 10 of those it infected -- some 50 million men, women, and children of all races and creeds.

At the time, it was called the Spanish Flu because it had first been detected in Spain. The most current thinking among medical researchers is that it may have originated here in the United States and was carried by American fighting men abroad. There, in the trenches, barracks, and field hospitals it mutated into the virulent strain that circled the globe -- and came back to this country on those Navy ships docking in Boston.

Many people viewed this tragedy as a warning about the insanity of war itself.  In “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” published in 1939, novelist Katherine Anne Porter summed up this view memorably: “No more war, no more plague,” she wrote.

But that very year, also in the autumn, “The Gathering Storm” would finally erupt, unleashing carnage that would pale that of World War I and even surpassing the vast suffering of the 1918-1919 flu epidemic. 

Carl M. Cannon 
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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