« Souter Will Resign | Main | Paul Krugman Asks An Excellent Question »

May 01, 2009


A very cogent, thoughtful, and pragmatic post -- until the last sentence:

"We should expect better from our Senators and Representatives."

Given their history, that's a bit of a stretch.

Well, Point, from the dictionary Google linkes to:ex·pect (ĭk-spĕkt')
v., -pect·ed, -pect·ing, -pects. v.tr.
1)a) To look forward to the probable occurrence or appearance of: expecting a telephone call; expects rain on Sunday.
1)b) To consider likely or certain: expect to see them soon. See Usage Note at anticipate.
2) To consider reasonable or due: We expect an apology.
3) To consider obligatory; require: The school expects its pupils to be on time.
4) Informal. To presume; suppose.So two of the four definitions - albeit not the first one - have Hilzoy covered.

Shutting down the border with Mexico would mean shutting down all US-Mexican trade. That would do serious damage to both economies

An epidemic with a 2% mortality rate (the Spanish flu mortality rate) that spreads unchecked globally will kill 120 million people. Sometimes it isn't just about money.

Second, aggressive measures to contain flu epidemics worked in the past. The localities that took the most aggressive measures to check the spread of the disease experienced the lowest death rates in the early 20th century epidemic. Quarantining someone during an epidemic who might have a deadly disease does not violate their civil liberties. That's absurd. Let the lawyers argue later over whether the quarantine was necessary. Don't kill 120 million people if you can avoid doing so. It's a moral thing.

Warnings were given weeks ago about the outbreak. The warnings were ignored, what's the risk of 120 million dead compared to free trade and cheap illegal labor?

It doesn't look, at this point, that the current epidemic will be anything like the worst epidemics of the last century. But let's not argue for a constitutional right to spread a disease that can kill 120 million people in a short period of time. That's nonsense.

And once again, the immigration debate is reduced to South Park episode levels. "They took our jobs!"


Well, since this flu was created and spread by the Obama administration to ease the nomination process of Kathleen Sebelius, closing the border can't work in any case [/snark].
Above all, it's pure closing the barn door after the pig (I mean horse) has already escaped. And what do you think would happen, if the Obama administration tried to restrict the movement of US citizens in the US in order to slow the spread of the disease? The same mouthfoamers now calling for closing the border an deporting all non-whites just in case will shriek their lungs out that this is the proof that Obama is getting serious about building the commie-fascist-muslim-atheist police state.
[snark] Hm, foaming at the mouth is a sign of rabies, an infectious disease with a lethality of 100%. Maybe we should consider culling the carriers of that, just in case[/snark].

And what do you think would happen, if the Obama administration tried to restrict the movement of US citizens in the US in order to slow the spread of the disease?

If the disease turned out to be not as deadly as expected, then not a lot would happen. People that hated Obama would continue to hate him. People that did not hate him would give him the benefit of the doubt that he tried to make the best decision given uncertain conditions. If the disease turned out to be more virulent than expected, then the restriction would mean that millions of people would live instead of die. The people that hate Obama would complain about that, too.

But it would damage economies. And only a leftist would choose saving millions of lives over damaging economies.


You have more trust in public sanity than I do.

While I agree that "closing" the border isn't in order at this moment, the idea that actually closing it would not have any impact in the US because the flu is already here is, to put it charitably, simplistic.

There's a lot more of this flu in Mexico than the US at the moment. And even if it's spreading exponentially in the US, "reseeding" our population with more centers for it to spread from will accelerate the spread of the disease. It could make a significant difference in the margin between the speed it spreads, and our ability to respond.

obviously, this isn't about health.

they aren't interested in the logic of closing the border for health reasons; they're using the flu as a means to try convincing more people that we have to close the border, period.

The same is true on the side of the people who are determined that that border is to be kept OPEN!, damn it, no matter what. There's a certain degree of fear that, were the border effectively closed in an emergency, then the next time it was argued that we can't do anything about illegal immigration, the border is too long to seal, people wouldn't believe it.

They shouldn't believe it, of course, we could build 2500 miles of Israeli style border fence for a fraction of one year's defense budget, but they'd have another reason not to believe it.

we could build 2500 miles of Israeli style border fence for a fraction of one year's defense budget.

Well sure, we could also drop palletes of gold into the Gulf of Mexico from C130s.

Sure we can close the Mexican border, but what about the other 9 countries that now have this flu strain (not including Mexico and US)? Oops...I guess we need to shut down the entire country RIGHT NOW (/snark). But seriously, if you think closing one border with one country would somehow stop this from spreading, then you really have not been paying attention.

Brett, I can't decide -- is today one of the days where you bitch and moan about your political opponents constantly ascribing bad-faith motivations to you, or is it one of the other ones?

While I like to imagine we could someday have control of our borders I realize it’s pretty much a pipe dream. Anyway – Mexico? Everyone knows those 9/11 terrorists all got here from Canada… If we can’t keep terrorists crossing from Canada how could we ever keep out a few Mexicans with the sniffles?

Fortunately the whole thing seems to be overreaction at this point as it appears to be less deadly than the normal annual flu.

Although with something like this I prefer overreaction to under-reaction. Next time though I’d like to hear about it from the CDC before Drudge breaks the story…

What an interesting logical leap, to assume that millions of people will die if the border is not "sealed".

There are many limitations on border traffic that we could implement short of the fantasy of "sealing the border". Restricting tourism, for example, or imposing a quarantine on goods and persons crossing into the United States - from ANY country.

But that isn't proposed because "seal the border" is not a thoughtful, scientifically sound response; it's one more excuse seized upon by the Keep Them Out brigade. After all, nobody is proposing that we close the ports, or that we seal "the border" to our north.

Don't panic®.

"Everyone knows those 9/11 terrorists all got here from Canada…" -OCSteve

Not sure whether you are serious, but since Napolitano thought so as recently as last month, better restate that the fact is that none of the 9/11 terrorists entered US from Canada. Some did rent a car in Boston, drive to an airport in Maine to board flight to Boston, but none came from Canada.

Next time though I’d like to hear about it from the CDC before Drudge breaks the story…

Are you saying the CDC was slow off the mark on the swine flu? (I thought only a few days ago the line was that the Obama admin was using 'flu alarmism' to get Sebelius confirmed.)

If you're not saying that, then your beef is with Drudge and not the CDC. I see no reason the CDC should abandon its own public health criteria in order to try to beat Drudge; he has no constraints or responsibilities at all.

But if you're reading Drudge, that explains a lot about your recent attitude.

"Well sure, we could also drop palletes of gold into the Gulf of Mexico from C130s."

I'm just saying, I'm tired of arguments against sealing the border based on the notion that it's impossible, which try to avoid coming to grips with the case for wanting to do so. It's not impossible. It's not even terrifically expensive, compared to other examples of abject stupidity we engage in every year. It might be a bad idea, but that's something you actually have to argue, since it is possible to do.

Hilzoy: Didn't you get the memo?

Brett, surely a wall by itself would prove no obstacle, right? I mean, people can use explosives to blow holes through walls, or they can dig tunnels under walls, or they can use ladders to climb over walls. So we're not talking only about a wall. We'd also need a vast electronic surveillance network attached to the wall and a vast electrical distribution network to power that network in the middle of nowhere. Then we'd need a large number of people to maintain the system and investigate problems and to sit in control rooms and monitor the sensor output. And we'd have to find a way to ensure that those people cannot simply be bribed to turn the other way. I mean, we let lots of people get drivers' licenses because DMV workers enjoy supplementing their income by providing licenses to the highest bidder.

You're right in the sense that none of these problems represent physical impossibilities, but it seems like any real solution is going to cost vast sums of money. Building stuff out in the desert isn't cheap, especially since we're going to have to use American labor.

"And only a leftist would choose saving millions of lives over damaging economies."

If there were any reason to think that it would save millions of lives, or even considerably fewer, I'd choose the lives. But, as I said in the rest of the post, it won't.

btfb: I thought the memo was silly. ;)


To term politician's calls to "close the border" idiocy is hubris of a pretty high order. You, after all, do not have to answer to constituents if your assessment of the situation is faulty.

The plain fact of the matter is that we are not yet in a position to know how the events of the next several weeks and months are going to play out, but it is not too early to wonder publicly whether restricting travel to and from the most affected regions might be a good idea. If this particular strain of flu is indeed a more virulent strain than most, then any time that can be bought while development of a vaccine goes forward is lives saved and thus a good investment.

Pawthorn: I think that we are, right now, in a position to know that closing the border is not a good idea -- even if you don't take into account the fact that swine flu seems to be comparatively mild. It's already here. We would not manage to seal the border completely. We would miss a lot of infectious people. It would just not work.

Yes the infection is here. Would closing the border prevent more infected people from coming here. Yes it would, since that is where it came from. At least we may be able to control what damage we have, or slow the spread until the vaccine is available. It's the the same as quarantining a house.

But that would go against the Democratic political agenda of keeping the borders open. So we risk American lives for politics.

Johnny Canuck: Yeah, I was busting on Napolitano.

Nell: But if you're reading Drudge, that explains a lot about your recent attitude.

Recent attitude? I’d say I’ve pretty much had the same bad attitude for years. ;)

No I don’t read Drudge. But it was Drudge that initially raised awareness of this issue. As late as Apr. 20th the CDC didn’t even know there was an outbreak next door in Mexico, and a private firm had been trying to draw their attention to it for weeks:

Ten days after the warning was first issued, on April 16, Veratect reported the disease was possibly spreading in Mexico with an "unspecified number of atypical pneumonia cases" detected at a hospital in Oaxaca. Because of the heightened concern, an automated e-mail was sent to 10 people at the CDC to notify them the report was available.

With the outbreak apparently spreading, Hart said the company's chief scientist, James Wilson, called people he knew at the CDC's Emergency Operations Center on April 20 to alert them to what was happening in Mexico. At that point, the CDC was focused on possible swine flu events in Texas and California, and a physician at the emergency operations center indicated the CDC was not aware of the spreading outbreak in Mexico, Hart said.

I don’t think “the CDC should abandon its own public health criteria in order to try to beat Drudge” – I think they should be at least as competent as a private data mining company to know there’s a frackin’ outbreak in a neighboring country!

Failing that – they could at least pay attention when said company is trying to tell them about it…

WHO predicts we're about a week away from level 6 Pandemic. As the virus spreads the liklihood increases it will mutate to something more lethal.

I don't know that closing the border is right or wrong, and I have no partisan take on it either way. But if WHO and CDC takes the threat seriously I suggest we do so as well.

As far as the potential irresponsibility of comments coming from Biden etc I point us to the WHO's definition of Phase 5 (where we are now):

Phase 5 is characterized by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.

John, do you know the difference between a single-family dwelling and an international border almost two thousand miles long?

Biden's remarks were the classic "gaff"; A polician accidently tells the truth, and then rushes to retract it.

Indeed, in the middle of a pandemic you SHOULD be leary of spending hours trapped in an airplane; Not only are you breathing everybody else's air, the air is so dry it increases the chance of infection.

Yeah, Hilzoy, I was kidding. I'm not sure if there is a person in the country who isn't talking about the swine flu; something tells me "H1N1" will not catch on.

Meanwhile, in The State That Won't Secede News, Texas is in a tizzy.

WHO just released an update citing that travel and border closings are not recommended.

Here is the RSS feed for their H1N1 announcements:

I really need to post this from Richard Nadler at NRO:

Swine-spread Bull [Richard Nadler]
"On some talk-radio shows, though not in these pages, popular commentators such as Michael Savage and Laura Ingraham have suggested closing the Mexican border to avoid a flu pandemic. They contend that the same border regime that allows illegal workers to cross the border puts us at danger of mass contagion.

This is air-borne bull. Here are some facts:

— There were 642,750 apprehensions of illegals crossing the 24 U.S.-border counties adjoining Mexico in 2007.
— These counties host a total of 41 “ports of entry” through which legal traffic crosses: trade, tourism, family visits, shopping, and university commutes.
— There were 239,809,189 legal crossing of these 41 “ports of entry” in 2007.
— Assuming that two illegals cross successfully for each apprehended, the illegal crossings of the U.S.-Mexican border equal one-half of one percent of the total crossings.

Now, unless these illegals eat, sleep, defecate, and mate in some novel way, they are clearly a sliver of a fraction of the “border breaches” available to pandemic viruses.

So get this: Were we crazy enough to seal the border, we could achieve 99.5% effectiveness without a single yard or fence of another border patrol agent. Just close the ports-of-entry.

Of course, 30,000 Americans regularly die during flu season. And there are 37,000 highway fatalities each year. So, after we seal the border, let’s close the roads.

I am constantly astounded at how little folks understand about the routine functioning of a free society."

See Isolation vs. Quarruntine from Effects Measure.

That's a professional, someone who's working in the field. Might be helpful.

Oh, we all know the WHO is in the thrall of open-border liberals and businesses exploiting immigrant labor!

judson, to paraphrase someone much wiser than I, you are not going to convince a man that something is true when his Internet argument depends on its not being true.

Sort of on-topic:

On NPR yesterday, the reporter was interviewing a barrio inhabitant in Mexico who resided next to an industrial hog farm. The translation from Spanish was thus: "It's filthy! That place is a pig-sty!"

Which had the upside of at least being accurate.

I wonder if the hog farm is a jointly owned enterprise between an American corporation and a Mexican corporation.

So, we close the border to pigs and hogs.

What do we do about the swine walking upright in the Texas Governor's Mansion? side?

Maybe the State of Texas will call for closing the border with Mexico the same day they secede from the Union and throw the U.S. Government out of the State.

Let me get this right: Some politicians call for no government intervention in the economy, including the imposition of vaccination, pollution, and labor standards on hog farms by international agreement so that commerce can flow to the lowest cost provider, and now we want to close the border ........ by government intervention?

Egypt's take on prevention.

on the other hand, maybe Mexico should close its border with the US.

OK, this random HTML-stripping is even more aggravating than the broken pagination.

i had a link on that last comment. here it is:

Why do I feel like I've read all this before? Didn't we have the same debate on bird flu or SARS a year or so ago?

Probably will again, until we get it right.

In the meantime, I like

We also had to read not that long ago that Mexicans will kill us (well, not me since I am not in the US and do not intend to be) all by spreading leprosy. What the guys spreading that probably did not know is that in pre-plague Europe that exact meme was used against the Jews who were accused to be in league with the (Moorish) ruler of Spain and receiving from him the poison that causes leprosy for distribution.
The current madness is simply mind-boggling (and I do think that Michelle Bachmann should have her head examined).

I think a rational discussion about border policies/tics is at the moment completely impossible with all the whackos with big mikes running around and I am just waiting for the torture discussion to fuse with the flu discussion (both seemingly in a fierce competition for which can go whackier and uglier faster).

That was Lou Dobbs.

In case the link doesn't come thru

Regarding the concept of an "Israeli-style wall..."

Aside from obvious issues (show me a 20 foot wall and I'll show you a 22 foot ladder), a wall like that would have dozens of unintended consequences. As only one example: What about ranchers on the US side of the wall who water their cattle at the Rio Grande? Who's advocating that big bad government put little people out of business now?

And then there's the other issue: Both Mexico and the US have hundreds of miles of coastline in close proximity. Should we wall off all our beaches? Fund a 300 ship expansion of the US Navy? Small boats are notoriously difficult to find. Inflatables, for example, can be rowed silently and are virtually invisible to radar.

There never has been any nation (perhaps a small island here and there and that is highly questionable) with "sealed borders."

People even escaped Communist Berlin and East Germany with their double rows of barbed wire, viscious dogs, machine guns, guard towers, etc. One thing the Communists were not short of was manpower in their military, yet there were still "unauthorized border crossings."

The concept of "sealing the border" is, on its face, absurd.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad