Saturday, October 18, 2014


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."

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.
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?

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.


debg said...

Yep. As usual, you hit the nail on the head, Steve.

Never Ben Better said...

The fearmongers have done their work well. People are going insane and you can't reach them with facts, they think it's just more gubmint lies. Behold, the craziness infecting the salt of the earth in Maine:

That's right, a teacher goes to a conference in Dallas, ten miles from the hospital where Mr. Duncan died, and terrified parents are convinced a wave of The Dread Pirate Ebola is about to sweep through their school. And the school board gives in to the idiocy. My favorite comment on the article by one Andrew Schaefer: "This is like blowing up your house because you saw a cockroach in your kitchen, and then napalming the entire neighborhood just to be sure, and then pouring ten feet of cement over all of it."

Steve M. said...

That's really upsetting -- and also upsetting is Syracuse disinviting that photojournalist. I'd seen the headline and thought it might make sense not to have him there if he's just returned from the hot zone, but he's been in the country 21 days. This is an institution of higher learning?

On the other hand, not grasping the fact that Zambia is 3,000 miles from the hot zone is pretty much what I expect from Mississippi.

Glennis said...

Well, much as I agree with him, then I read his thoughtless "Think of Ebola taking hold in the slums of Lagos" and wonder how much he actually knows what he's talking about. The Nigerians HAVE thought of Ebola taking hold in the slums of Lagos, and have taken excellent measures to control it. They're a model.

Glennis said...

Team Obama also failed to anticipate the right pouncing on Ebola in the way it has

I despair that it's now considered wise to expect your political opponents to exploit a national health crisis and deliberately incite fear and ignorance just to damage the very institution needed to control the problem.

At every turn, the Republicans have chosen to make things worse. I can't quite fault the administration for not understanding how absolutely low they can go.

mlbxxxxxx said...

Here's a problem I've not seen addressed:

If you implement a travel ban but let in aid worker's, for it to be meaningful, you couldn't let the aid worker's or their pilots, baggage handlers, etc., back out. Every trip to West Africa would be one way.

You either have a travel ban or you don't. It can't be a partial ban. The first ebola patient in America was an American physician missionary. His nurses could have been infected just as easily as Duncan's. I don't think anybody other than idiots like Trump seriously thought that missionary should have been banned from coming home.

Ken_L said...

Osama's work is done. A good number of Americans now suffer from a kind of permanent hysteria in which they get up in the morning to find something to be terrified of.

Another 9/11 and the USA will tear itself apart. The disintegration of America's moral fibre over the last 13 years has been truly remarkable.

Glennis said...

I don't think anybody other than idiots like Trump seriously thought that missionary should have been banned from coming home.

No, they only want to ban black people. White people flying in are OK, as far as they're concerned. Try to keep out a returning missionary with Franklin Graham's outfit, and see how quickly they turn.

Philo Vaihinger said...

Still silly. If they wanted to put nuanced travel restrictions is place they could and should. To date, the appearance of government insouciance contributes to public panic while undermining the argument that we need to do more to stop the disease in Africa.
Dear Aunt Snow, I frankly believe no one sick should be brought home, and I truly don't give a damn about his (or her) race. But I can't speak for Franklin Graham. Can you?