Oh, so now we're getting well-written, thoughtful, detailed arguments for why a travel ban won't work?
Don't get me wrong, I'm very grateful for this article on the subject by The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn. Among other things, it addresses the argument that commercial flights aren't needed into and out of West Africa because aid workers can take charters:
Lots of people wonder, couldn't the U.S. government just arrange other transportation -- maybe a modern-day version of the 1948 Berlin airlift? I've put that question to a number of officials and experts and the answer I keep hearing is "no." In the real world, they say, making these arrangements would be difficult and solutions would be inadequate. It's not as if assistance is this highly organized campaign, with all the necessary aid workers and their supplies lined up at Dover Air Force base, just waiting for C-17s to take them across the Atlantic. The flow of people and wares into West Africa is a constantly changing, unpredictable blob that's heavily dependent on freely available commercial transportation. Replacing that would take resources and time, the latter of which the region really doesn't have.A very good Politico story on the same subject runs some numbers, citing Robert Mann, an aviation consultant:
"If you literally sequester the markets, which is to say remove all scheduled service, you really eliminate the possibility of practical access to those markets by public health officials and public health [groups] who are trying to help," Mann said. "You would force them into the charter market, which is very expensive and in some cases also not very practical."Yes -- $200,000 to charter a jet for 16 people is $12,500 a person, as opposed to $1,200. It's more than ten times as much. And aid groups are cash-strapped as it is. Who among the ban-the-flights crowd is prepared to pony up the difference, or put up resources (or advocate the allocation of tax dollars) to ensure enough flights?
Mann said the economics of chartering a plane to operate in West Africa are particularly challenging -- and, by extension, especially expensive, likely rising quickly out of reach for most non-government organizations or aid workers.
He said a 16-seater plane capable of flying from North America to Western Africa nonstop, chartered from a reputable firm, would cost around $12,000 per hour for a 16-hour round-trip flight, not including ground handling costs, plus fuel costs for the return trip. He said some charter companies might be reluctant to even offer services to an Ebola hotspot, for the same reason an airline wouldn't care to fly there.
"It's really not practical for 16 people to pay what may be $200,000 to charter a jet -- and compare that to the fares on scheduled airlines," which might be about $1,200 per person.
And both pieces address the question of what happens to countries in the hot zone. Here's Cohn:
A travel ban would also hurt the region economically. And while it might seem frivolous to worry about dollars (or other currencies) when it comes to matters of life and death, the issues are inextricably linked. The more the people of these countries face deprivation, whether its lack of jobs or lack of food, the more they will push to leave. It's not at all far-fetched to imagine huge refugee flows out of these countries -- the kind that even tight border controls couldn't fully stop. That would increase the chances that Ebola ends up in other African nations, including those with large urban centers and strong ties to global networks. Think of Ebola taking hold in the slums of Lagos or Nairobi, and how quickly it would jump from there to the rest of the continent and then beyond. It's just one more example of how a travel ban, quite apart from its devastating effect on the region, could actually result in more cases eventually showing up on American shores.But in all likelihood it's too late for arguments like this. The train has left the station. The hysteria-mongers had a jump on thoughtful liberals, centrists, experts, and wonks -- the right-wing screechers been spreading fear and yelling "Seal the borders!" while Thomas Feiden and other Obama administration officials have been defending the lack of a travel ban with vague general statements lacking detail about what a post-ban world would look like. And the mainstream press has been slow off the mark as well. The right set the terms of this debate -- as the right sets the terms of most debates.
Just as the Obama administration failed to anticipate an infected person getting through screening, failed to anticipate confusion surrounding a complex series of Ebola protocols, and failed to anticipate the inability of a non-specialized hospital to handle an Ebola patient in a health care system known for cost-driven corner-cutting, Team Obama also failed to anticipate the right pouncing on Ebola in the way it has, and thus driving public opinion. I think this administration is pretty good at reacting -- the health care website got fixed, the screws on Putin got tightened, the current level of Ebola contact-tracing is probably now at least as strict as it needs to be, if not stricter -- but anticipating problems is, to put it mildly, not the Obamaites' strong suit.
And the fact that right-wingers, on nearly every issue, drown out everyone else with their cynical faux-anguish is something center and left journalists never anticipate. And I have to ask: How do you miss this when it keeps happening? How do you not realize that you have to write stories as if at least a third of your audience has already been terrified and misinformed by the right, and constantly needs to have misconceptions corrected in great detail? How can something that happens so often possibly be a surprise every time it happens?
All of you, please: Be ready for the possibility that things will go very, very wrong. It often happens in the real world. It nearly always happens in the dissemination of information that has potential political consequences, thanks to the right.