Streetwise Professor

October 5, 2014

We Are So Screwed, Ebola Edition

Filed under: Economics,Politics — The Professor @ 8:24 am

A corollary to the old expression “sh*t happens” is “it happens all at once.” That certainly appears to be true in the Age of Obama. The parade of horribles just keeps on getting longer.

Case in point: Ebola. Of course the outbreak in west Africa, unprecedented in both scale, scope, and location (occurring far to the west of most previous episodes) cannot be laid at the doorstep of the White House (guarded as it is by a rather fallen Secret Service!). But the American response to it is very much the administration’s responsibility, and the early indications are: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The response to the initial case in Dallas, and the very fact that Thomas Duncan made it to Dallas, hardly inspire confidence. Pandemic illnesses have been a threat for a long time. The Ebola threat has been developing for months. There should be, and should have been, off-the-shelf contingency plans well in place to deal with this, and deal quickly and efficiently. Starting with screening procedures regarding whom to let into the country, and with protocols to identify and isolate potential cases. But that didn’t happen in the Duncan case.

So the government has taken a Mulligan, and will nail the next shot, right?

Based on the response of Center for Disease Control and Prevention head Thomas Friedan, the answer is again: Be afraid. Be very afraid. His response is all about defensive spinning and political correctness. He is fighting against measures to restrict travel to the US by those who are at high risk of exposure to Ebola, measures that should have been in place when the crisis began to explode in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Libera. In his dishonest defense, he has mastered the Obama tropes of straw men, the false choice, and the non sequitur:

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the federal government is looking at different safety-related suggestions from Capitol Hill and beyond, but he suggested the key is to control the deadly virus where it started overseas, not limiting entry to the United States.

“Though we might wish we can seal ourselves off from the world, there are Americans who have the right of return and many other people that have the right to enter this country,” Frieden said at a press conference Saturday.  “We’re not going to be able to get to zero risk no matter what we do unless we control the outbreak in West Africa.”

Frieden went on to say that limiting entry at the borders could actually put Americans at greater risk.

“In terms of the entry process, we really need to be clear that we don’t inadvertently increase the risk to people in this country by making it harder for us to respond to the needs in those countries, by making it harder to get assistance in and therefore those outbreaks would become worse, go on longer, and paradoxically, something that we did to try and protect ourselves might actually increase our risk,” Frieden said.

Where to begin?

  1. Who other than Mr. Straw is wishing, arguing, or advocating that “we seal ourselves off from the world”? A discriminating (yes, discrimination can be a good thing!) approach to admitting people to the US is not “sealing ourselves off from the world.” It is the most basic measure that can be taken to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus to the US.  We’re not talking about pulling up the drawbridge. We’re talking about aggressive screening to identify and isolate high risks, while letting low or zero risk people travel normally.
  2. Who is claiming “zero risk” is possible? The issue is reducing the risk in the most efficient and efficacious ways.
  3. Since when is the “right to enter the country” unlimited? FFS, several years ago I was hassled at customs/immigration for accidentally bringing a ham sandwich off the plane from Europe, and was subjected to luggage checks the next four times I returned to the country. I apparently got more scrutiny than Mr. Duncan. Friday, while waiting for baggage at Newark, a sniffer dog found a guy who’d brought a banana off the plane. He was given a citation.
  4. Since when are fighting against the disease at its origin in west Africa and preventing those from west Africa at high risk to being exposed to the disease from entering the country mutually exclusive alternatives? Can’t we put a “Both” box for Obama to check on the options memo that his staff prepares for him? Does fighting the disease in west Africa compete for resources with screening people entering the US? Hardly.
  5. As dysfunctional as west African countries are, we might as well just kill ourselves now if controlling the disease in that region is necessary to prevent an outbreak in the US.
  6. Does that last quoted paragraph in the story  make any sense? Any? I’ve read it 10 times and it’s more bizarre and incoherent each time. How does restricting entry of potentially infected individuals to the US impede our efforts in west Africa? That is the non sequitur to beat all non sequiturs.

One struggles to find good reasons for Freiden’s battle (and hence the administration’s battle) to screen entry into the country. The fact that Freiden feels compelled to resort to such dishonest arguments strongly suggests that there is no good reason, but there is likely a political agenda here. I strongly suggest that it is a politically correct agenda as well.

Regardless of the rationale, it is beyond outrageous that a legitimate function of government-public health-is being executed so dishonestly and incompetently. But just throw this on the pile. The VA. IRS. Obamacare website. The Secret Service. The Apostles of Big Government are the best evangelists for libertarianism-hell, anarchocapitalism-one could possibly imagine.


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  1. I think the point Freiden is trying to make in the last paragraph is that, if we make it harder for people to enter the US from West Africa, we make it harder to send people to West Africa to fight Ebola, because then they cannot come back. This is fairly sound logic, but followed to its conclusion leads to terrible policy. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that we make it impossible for people to renter the US if they have been to Africa, just that those entries are monitored and controlled. Does this raise the cost of sending people to West Africa to fight Ebola? Sure, but what is the alternative? No controls? That is clearly an extremely risky and irresponsible approach.

    Also, on the topic of sending people to West Africa, putting border controls in place might prevent people not affiliated with the government from traveling to the region to help, but given the risks, is this really a bad thing? Furthermore, if an Ebola outbreak isn’t enough to prevent people from traveling to the region to assist, I am not sure how much a border control policy will affect their decision making.

    Comment by JDonn — October 5, 2014 @ 10:45 am

  2. @JDonn. Still not seeing it. We can have a differentiated system for people we send there but are returning, and people who come here on their own. And yes, we need to take precautions about anyone coming here from the hot zone, regardless of there reasons for being there in the first place. The people who go from the US to help address the crisis surely understand the need for scrutinizing them on their return. And seriously, they would certainly no doubt appreciate being examined carefully.

    The argument is so weak that I am convinced there is an ulterior motive. Most likely, not wanting to implement a policy that may be perceived as discriminating against Africans, even though it would really be intended to discriminate against Ebola victims, who just happen to be Africans.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 5, 2014 @ 1:38 pm

  3. JDonn, we can send aid, medical supplies and healthcare volunteers on military transport. So stopping assistance is bogus. Mr Duncan, a non-citizen who suspected he was infected, didn’t give a damn about infecting his host and her family or the community. He and those like him are the problem. Obviously screening is useless. We need travel restrictions now.

    Comment by Penny — October 5, 2014 @ 2:02 pm

  4. I never thought I would ever see this in my lifetime, but Nigeria has managed to deal with a serious issue – a person entering the country with Ebola – with greater efficiency, preparation, and competence than America.

    Comment by Tim Newman — October 5, 2014 @ 2:35 pm

  5. @Tim. I agree. I had the same thought. But of course, Nigeria was not hamstrung by political correctness and progressive bugbears.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 5, 2014 @ 2:51 pm


    Comment by Anders — October 5, 2014 @ 2:53 pm

  7. Just to be clear, I was not agreeing with Freiden’s argument, just trying to illustrate the point I thought he was trying to make. I think he is wrong (and perhaps being intentionally misleading), for all the reasons that have been pointed out in the original post and comments. I just don’t think that particular paragraph was incoherent. Anyway, it is a pretty minor point, and I definitely agree that the lack of any substantive arguments is pretty damning.

    Comment by JDonn — October 5, 2014 @ 3:18 pm

  8. OMG, are you calling for more screening for people entering the US? The xray is not enough, you want us to give a stool sample too?

    Comment by aaa — October 5, 2014 @ 10:24 pm

  9. I can’t help but contrast the US’ policy on controlling financial flows to those that are apparently regulating the flow of disease. $10,000 wired to Toronto takes almost a day to consummate given fear of terrorism and money laundering. Try setting up a bank account in the US if you are involved in a “high-risk” business (read: not to the moral liking of the Administration), such as transaction processing, pawn shops, or any business that touches guns, tobacco, or alcohol. All of this in the name of stopping money laundering and terrorism. And then Clapper cannot believe that we are willing to risk the mythical life of a fictional kidnapped child by not giving the government access to all of our personal data. Yet these same people are not willing to restrict the flow of people from Western Africa? Why should I as an American compromise my civil liberties consistently in the name of “terrorism” and have business dealings unduly restricted by Patriot Act, anti-money laundering laws, FATCA and know-your-customer laws, but non-Americans from an a region of the world gripped by a deadly plague are not even restricted from traveling to the US unencumbered?

    Comment by Rasputin — October 6, 2014 @ 7:21 am

  10. @ aaa – well, as long as those are kept separate.

    Comment by Green as Grass — October 6, 2014 @ 7:52 am

  11. Aid workers sent to the Hot Zone can come back in approved ways and properly quarantined before being released. It’s that simple.

    Lots of things need to be worked out for a proper regimen to be put in place, but there should have been contingency plans worked on back in July or so when the problem became very apparent. By now, most work should be already be done for the CDC/government to implement a quarantine. In fact, there should be work with the other countries on the Western Hemisphere to isolate the entire hemisphere, and work with Europe and Japan on protocols on what to do should Ebola appear in the developed world.

    I can tell people are already upset there is already a case in the US.

    Comment by Chris — October 6, 2014 @ 12:33 pm

  12. Please, people, we have enough stool samples in the government already.

    Comment by Sotos — October 6, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

  13. @Rasputin . . . you’ve put your finger on the PC aspect of this. In our upside-down country, non-citizens, especially from 3d world nations get precedence over citizens. And questioning this is a risky thing to do.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 6, 2014 @ 9:27 pm

  14. Very risky. But hopefully all will be better, soon. If not separation, then rather more radical measures will be taken. Why not peaceably depart from these sub-human liberals, instead of waiting for the necessary bloodshed?

    Why can’t we exclude the infected people from our country? Because of Liberalism. Why can’t we take any practical steps to survive? Because of Liberalism. Separate. Leave. The United States of Anti-America needs to become a minimum of 30 independent states, with no gobamint, no presidenk, no congriss.

    Comment by Mendel — October 12, 2014 @ 7:38 pm

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