We Are So Screwed, Ebola Edition

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.

About Craig Pirrong 228 Articles

Affiliation: University of Houston

Dr Pirrong is Professor of Finance, and Energy Markets Director for the Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College of Business of the University of Houston. He was previously Watson Family Professor of Commodity and Financial Risk Management at Oklahoma State University, and a faculty member at the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and Washington University.

Professor Pirrong's research focuses on the organization of financial exchanges, derivatives clearing, competition between exchanges, commodity markets, derivatives market manipulation, the relation between market fundamentals and commodity price dynamics, and the implications of this relation for the pricing of commodity derivatives. He has published 30 articles in professional publications, is the author of three books, and has consulted widely, primarily on commodity and market manipulation-related issues.

He holds a Ph.D. in business economics from the University of Chicago.

Visit: Streetwise Professor

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