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The Swine Flu with Steyn and Hugh.

Friday, May 1, 2009
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HH: But beginning this day as we do on every Thursday when we are lucky, Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. Mr. Steyn, do you have your surgical mask on?

MS: (laughing) Yes, yes I gather Michael Jackson has taken to wearing a surgical mask over his surgical mask. So things must be serious.

HH: Okay, give us your reaction first to the pandemic generally.

MS: Well, you know, we’re, historically speaking, we’re overdue for one of these killer flues, not necessarily something on the scale of 1918, but certainly a big, global pandemic. And of course, what’s changed since 1918 is we’re now in the era of mass transportation, where people go from one end of the world to another. If you remember the SARS, the little SARS epidemic thing from five years ago, five or six years ago, that basically leapt across the planet very fast, from rural China, somebody went up and stayed in a fancy hotel in Hong Kong, infected everybody, I think, in the elevator and the bathroom, public bathrooms of that hotel, and they all then flew on, brought it to Toronto and killed a big, whole mass of people in Toronto. So I think if this thing does get around that fast, then we are looking at potentially something very serious.

HH: Let’s listen to the President taking a question on this last night. Cut number 6:

BHO: I’ve consulted with our public health officials extensively on a day to day basis. In some cases, an hour to hour basis. At this point, they have not recommended a border closing. From their perspective, it would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out, because we already have cases here in the United States. We have ramped up screening efforts as well as made sure that additional supplies are there on the border, so that we can prepare in the eventuality that we have to do more than we’re doing currently. But the most important thing right now that public health officials have indicated is that we treat this the same way that we would treat other flu outbreaks, just understanding that because this is a new strain…

HH: All right, now we get to the washing hands. What do you make of that non-answer, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, it makes no sense, because clearly there’s a difference. It’s true, obviously, that there are cases of this thing already in the United States. But it makes a huge difference if there are ten people with this flu in the United States, or if there are 2,000 people with this thing in the United States. So the idea that you don’t close the border just because one guy with the flu has already slipped across is completely idiotic, and it’s kind of embarrassing to hear a president, I understand he’s not an epidemiologist, and I’m not either, but to stand up and say anything like that in public is very bizarre. I see John McCain is calling for the border to be sealed. This is a man who when it comes to immigration, generally takes the view that the border cannot be sealed, that in fact the southern border of the United States cannot be enforced. So I would be interested to know if it does become a pandemic, and people do decide they have to close the border, how actually they’re going to go about doing that, because a lot of these people are the same people who told us that you simply can’t enforce that border anyway.

HH: From the National Review’s The Corner blog, an epidemiologist wrote in, and I want to read the first paragraph, “Well, I am an epidemiologist of infectious diseases, no less, and what Obama and Napolitano before him said is utterly preposterous. Every infected patient is a potential index case, that is the case from whom an outbreak spreads.”

MS: Right.

HH: “The math is very simple. More index cases, more opportunities for outbreaks.” There are lots of horses still in the barn, Mark Steyn. I think that’s what the President doesn’t get.

MS: Yeah, that’s right, and it is complicated by the fact that as far as one can tell from these early indications, your chances of being effectively treated for this flu are much better in the United States than in Mexico. So if you are someone who gets sick in Mexico, or if you’re just someone in Mexico who doesn’t fancy your chances with this flu, then actually now’s a pretty good time to come to the United States. So I mean, this is a border issue. I mean, this is different from what I was talking about earlier with the rural China to Hong Kong to London and Toronto thing, because in a sense, when you have a third world nation like Mexico bordering a first world medical system, you’ve got all kinds of other pressures, too.

HH: Let’s listen in to Joe Biden on the Today Show this morning giving his very comprehensive overview. Cut number 1:

ML: Last night, the President said no plans to shut down the borders between the U.S. and Mexico, no plans even to curtail commercial air traffic or travel between the two countries. And I think some people this morning, Mr. Vice President, may be shaking their heads not understanding that. Help me out.

JB: Well, I’ll help you out by telling that we have contacted and been in constant contact with the leading health experts both in the world as well as here in the United States. And they have suggested that that is not the way we should move. They have suggested that what we should be doing is deal with mitigation, and that is that circumstances where large crowds of people, whether they’re in schoolrooms or in soccer stadiums, or in malls or whatever, where the flu is transmitted. Closing the classroom and closing the border are two fundamentally different things. And so we’ve been operating on the best evidence we’ve been given by the world’s leading experts on pandemics and epidemics, and that’s the advice that we’ve been given.

HH: Now Mark Steyn, what’s so amusing about Joe Biden, and it would be very amusing if it were not so serious, is that of course closing a border and closing a classroom are exactly the same thing. It’s a tactic taken to separate people from potential virus carriers.

MS: Yes, I found it very interesting when the Vice President was talking about his own life, and he said he’d advise his family not to travel on the subway or on public transportation. I found this very interesting, because essentially, the whole Obama administration approach to public transportation is that instead of driving around in our big SUVs, we should all be strap-hanging on the subway and on these various light rail projects together. They are, of course, all, anywhere you get large numbers of crowds drawn from a wide, dispersed area, you have the potential for spreading disease. So Joe Biden is right about that. But he’s absolutely, he sounds absolutely ridiculous when he says presumably that they’ve spoken to some guy at the World Health Organization who says don’t close, who says oh, no, there’s no need to close the borders. That’s all, the WHO, which I assume are the guys he’s been speaking to, are one of the most political agencies at the United Nations. To go back to that SARS epidemic six years ago, China lied for weeks and months about that disease while it spread around the world. And the WHO helped collude in a lot of China’s lies. He’s responsible, Joe Biden, for the sovereign territory of the United States, and that’s what he should be thinking about.

HH: You know, Mark Steyn, if there was an Ebola outbreak in Nairobi, do you think we’d be taking planes from Nairobi right now?

MS: No, and in fact, if it was a, if it was a politically uncomplicated place, the administration would have no trouble whatsoever announcing that they recommended that U.S. citizens did not visit somewhere. Let’s say it was Winnipeg, because Secretary Napolitano likes being rude to Canada, has no problem with that…

HH: (laughing)

MS: If instead of this being Mexican Swine Flu it was Canadian Maple Flu, she would be issuing travel advisories advising U.S. citizens not to go to Winnipeg. But the minute it becomes all kind of slightly more multi-culturally complicated, they become exquisitely protective of all kinds of other sensitivities that aren’t to do with public health.

HH: Now we’ve seen France, Argentina and Cuba, to name the big three, shut off flights from Mexico. How long until, since we’re letting Mexicans come here, how long until those countries say okay, we’re cutting off flights from the Americas totally?

MS: Yes, I think that would be interesting. At some point, they would start looking, for example, if there were to be an increase in cases in Southern California, it’s quite possible to imagine France, which is incredibly chauvinist when it has to be, issuing a travel ban on flights from Los Angeles. That certainly is, that certainly is possible.

HH: Okay, last question, do you…

MS: I mean, basically, they’re very, when they have to be, they’re far less sensitive on these things.

HH: And did you have to lie down and catch your breath after the 100 days, and the 100 days press conference, Mark Steyn? We’ve got about a minute.

MS: Yeah, I got the feeling, you know, I’ve enjoyed the first hundred days of the first hundred days of the celebration of Obama’s first hundred days, but now I’ve really had my fill. I’ve really had my fill of it now, and I wish he’d stop cutting into prime time TV, and just get on with the job, really.

HH: And are you sorry to see Arlen go?

MS: No, I’m not. I think what’s interesting is that this is less devastating than he imagines. If he felt as strong as Jim Jeffords or Joe Lieberman, he would have become an independent. He knows he’s not that popular in Pennsylvania, as Lieberman and Jeffords were in Connecticut and Vermont. So this isn’t quite the same deal that those two did.

HH: Mark Steyn, Columnist To the World, always a pleasure, www.steynonline.com for all of Mark’s work.

End of interview.

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