Category Archives: Class

EnviroWatch: Ebola, inequality, toxins, nukes


We open today’s coverage of stories about people, place, and their interaction with a much-needed report on an aspect of the Ebola crisis that’s received far too little notice.

From Democracy Now!:

“A Reflection of Growing Inequality”: Dr. Paul Farmer on the Deadly Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

Program notes:

As the death toll from the West African Ebola outbreak nears 1,400, two American missionaries who received experimental drugs and top-notch healthcare have been released from the hospital. We spend the hour with Partners in Health co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer discussing what can be done to stop the epidemic and the need to build local healthcare capacity, not just an emergency response. “The Ebola outbreak, which is the largest in history that we know about, is merely a reflection of the public health crisis in Africa and it’s about the lack of staff, stuff and systems that could protect populations, particularly those living in poverty, from outbreaks like this or other public health threats,” says Farmer, who has devoted his life to improving the health of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. He is a professor at Harvard Medical School and currently serves as the special advisor to the United Nations on community-based medicine. He has written several books including, “Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues.”

A longer version of the interview is posted online here.

Closer to Casa esnl, some good news, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Sacramento Ebola test comes back negative

Health officials announced Thursday night that a patient in Sacramento who was thought to have been exposed to the Ebola virus after traveling to West Africa has tested negative and does not have the disease.

Dr. Ron Chapman, Director of the California Department of Public Health, said that a blood sample sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came back free of the deadly virus, which has been ravishing West Africa over the last two months, killing more than 1,100 people.

The patient had recently traveled to the region, officials said.

Followed immediately by more bad news, first via BBC News:

Ebola crisis: Speed and extent of outbreak ‘unprecedented’

The World Health Organization has said the speed and extent of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is “unprecedented”.

The WHO’s Dr Keiji Fukuda expressed concern over so-called “shadow zones”, areas which cannot be reached and where patients are not being detected.

Speaking at a news conference in the Liberian capital Monrovia, Dr Fukuda said combating the disease would take “several months of hard work”.

“We haven’t seen an Ebola outbreak covering towns, rural areas so quickly and over such a wide area,” he added.

CBC News has the numbers:

Ebola epidemic’s death toll rises to 1,427

  • Ebola ‘road map’ in the works to fight outbreak for 6 to 9 months, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib says

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has led to 1,427 deaths out of 2,615 known cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

In its latest update, the WHO reported 142 new laboratory-confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola and 77 more deaths from four affected countries — Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

Al Jazeera America adds another caution:

Ebola virus may not be contained in Nigeria as two more cases emerge

  • The development comes as African nations have tightened travel restrictions against WHO’s advice

Two new cases of Ebola have emerged in Nigeria and, they are outside the group of caregivers who treated an airline passenger who arrived with Ebola and died, Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said Friday.

The two are spouses of a man and woman who had direct contact with Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, who flew into Nigeria last month with the virus and infected 11 others before he died in July, including the male and female caregiver who both subsequently died of Ebola, Chukwu told reporters in Abuja, the capital.

Nigerian officials initially claimed the risk of exposure to others was minimal because Sawyer was whisked into isolation after arriving at the airport. But Lagos state health commissioner Jide Idris later acknowledged that Sawyer was not immediately quarantined the first day.

More from Reuters:

WHO warns of ‘shadow zones’, hidden cases in Ebola outbreak

The scale of the world’s worst Ebola outbreak has been concealed by families hiding infected loved ones in their homes and the existence of “shadow zones” that medics cannot enter, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

The U.N. agency issued a statement detailing why the outbreak in West Africa had been underestimated, following criticism that it had moved too slowly to contain the killer virus, now spreading out of control.

Independent experts raised similar concerns a month ago that the contagion could be worse than reported because suspicious local inhabitants are chasing away health workers and shunning treatment.

Under-reporting of cases is a problem especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The WHO said it was now working with Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to produce “more realistic estimates”.

The Guardian covers a consequence:

Ebola has caused Liberia’s cauldron of dissatisfaction to boil over

  • Relations between the Liberian state and its citizens were already in crisis before the Ebola outbreak made things much worse

“We dodged bullets during the war, now Ebola is going to kill us?” my aunt asked me in distress one evening in mid-July, as we sat commiserating at my house on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.

Back then, Ebola seemed like a looming threat in the way that armed conflict had 15 years earlier. But by the end of the month, the Liberian government had declared a state of emergency and, days later, the World Health Organisation designated the Ebola outbreak in west Africa an international health emergency. Ebola has now killed more than 1,000 people, with the number of deaths in Liberia surpassing those in Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Yet before the highly infectious disease permeated Liberia’s borders from neighbouring Guinea in March, the country was plagued by a crisis of citizenship. Relations between the Liberian state and its citizens were already volatile.

The Guardian covers First World fear:

Fear and false alarms as Ebola puts Europe on alert

  • After the death of a Spanish missionary who contracted the virus in Liberia, European authorities are taking no chances

There has been only one confirmed Ebola case in Europe since the epidemic broke out in Africa, but a string of false alarms has provoked jitters and charges of overreaction.

From Austria to Ireland, Spain to Germany, there have been at least a dozen cases of west Africans with mild flu symptoms being isolated until it was established that they were not suffering from Ebola. The only recorded case involved a Spanish missionary who contracted the virus in Liberia and died after he had returned to Spain.

In Spain, worries over Ebola have resulted in three false alarms in as many days.

From TheLocal.fr, airborne alarm:

Ebola: Cabin crew told to boycott Air France flights

Pressure mounted on Air France to suspend flights to West Africa on Friday when a trade union called on cabin crew to refuse to board planes to Ebola hit countries. It comes after panic spread through a Paris flight earlier this week.

A trade union representing Air France cabin crew has told its members to refuse to board planes bound for West African countries hit by Ebola.

The UGICT –CGT union said crew were not sufficiently protected against contamination from Ebola and they should boycott flights bound to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

TheLocal.it covers another alarm:

Italian woman in suspected Ebola case

An Italian woman travelling from Nigeria on Friday was stopped at Istanbul airport in a suspected Ebola case, Turkish media reported.

The Italian woman had a high fever and was put under medical supervision on arrival at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, Cihan news agency reported.

She had travelled on a Turkish Airlines flight from Kano in Nigeria, where there have been 12 confirmed cases and four deaths of the Ebola virus.

The woman was taken from the airport to Istanbul’s Haseki Training and Research Hospital, Cihan said.

BBC News covers another consequence:

Ebola crisis: Senegal defends Guinea border closure

Senegal has defended the closure of its border with Guinea because of the Ebola outbreak, despite warnings that such measures are counterproductive.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says travel bans do not work.

Senegal’s Health Minister Dr Eva Marie Colle Seck told the BBC the travel ban would not affect humanitarian flights, and that the WHO was “learning, like everybody [else]”.

In Liberia, a boy of 16 shot while protesting about a quarantine has died.

CBC News gets proactive:

Ebola treatment of Kent Brantly, Nancy Writebol holds lessons for others

  • Replace fluid and electroytes, U.S. doctor advices colleagues treating Ebola patients in Africa

Two Americans who recovered from Ebola virus infections are contributing to doctors’ understanding of the deadly disease, a physician who treated them says.

Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol were infected with the Ebola virus in Liberia while working for Christian aid groups.

They were evacuated from Liberia, treated for three weeks at a hospital in Atlanta and discharged this week.

And The Hill reassures:

FDA seeks to dispel Ebola outbreak fears

The Food and Drug Administration has posted a Web page with quick facts about the Ebola virus and the outbreak in West Africa in order to fight misconceptions about the disease permeating the general public.

“Currently, there are no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent or treat Ebola,” the FDA says on its page. “Ebola does not pose a significant risk to the U.S. public.”

The FDA plans to update the page with its ongoing assessments of the disease and has provided information for the public to report fake Ebola drugs and vaccines, which have been a major concern for the agency.

While health officials have repeatedly said there is virtually no risk of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S., 4 in 10 people are concerned there will be a large outbreak, and a quarter of people are worried they or a loved one will be infected within the next year according to a new survey by Harvard University.

And that old metadata surfaces anew in another context, via MIT Technology Review:

Cell-Phone Data Might Help Predict Ebola’s Spread

  • Mobility data from an African mobile-phone carrier could help researchers recommend where to focus health-care efforts

A West African mobile carrier has given researchers access to data gleaned from cell phones in Senegal, providing a window into regional population movements that could help predict the spread of Ebola. The current outbreak is so far known to have killed at least 1,350 people, mainly in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

The model created using the data is not meant to lead to travel restrictions, but rather to offer clues about where to focus preventive measures and health care. Indeed, efforts to restrict people’s movements, such as Senegal’s decision to close its border with Guinea this week, remain extremely controversial.

Orange Telecom made “an exceptional authorization in support of Ebola control efforts,” according to Flowminder, the Swedish nonprofit that analyzed the data. “If there are outbreaks in other countries, this might tell what places connected to the outbreak location might be at increased risk of new outbreaks,” says Linus Bengtsson, a medical doctor and cofounder of Flowminder, which builds models of population movements using cell-phone data and other sources.

Meanwhile, the London Daily Mail evokes another specter:

Will climate change cause a rise in dengue fever? Holidaymakers visiting Italy and Spain could be at risk

  • Risk of dengue fever in Europe is likely to increase, researchers claim
  • Dengue is a viral infection carried and spread by mosquitoes
  • Thrive in warm, humid conditions, which could include areas in Europe
  • This is dependent on climate change continuing on its current trajectory
  • Italy’s Po Valley and areas in southern Spain are at risk
  • University of East Anglia’s research is based on data collected in Mexico

On to other environmental news, first with an Al Jazeera America story that evokes concerns raised by Paul Farmer much closer to home:

Alabama community alleges race bias over toxic landfill site

  • Coal ash from earlier environmental disaster is causing health concerns for poor African-American residents

Five-and-a-half years have passed since an earthen dam holding toxic coal ash from a coal plant failed in Harriman, Tenn., spilling more than a billion gallons of the ash into rivers and forests, and destroying several homes. The TVA Kingston Fossil Plant disaster was widely considered one of the worst in U.S. history, or at least one of the biggest by volume. And it’s still causing headaches, hundreds of miles away.

Last week, Environmental Protection Agency investigators traveled to Uniontown, Ala., to interview residents and activists who say a local landfill that accepted much of the Tennessee coal ash is polluting air and water sources nearby, causing people who live in the area to become sick. The residents of the poor, predominantly black area say they are being unfairly burdened with the literal remnants of a disaster they had nothing to do with.

“The landfill is a hill, a mountain, and it’s scary,” said Esther Calhoun, a 51-year-old resident that has lived in Uniontown for most of her life. “Who wants to live in a place that might be bad for your health? But most of us are on a fixed income. We’re stuck here.”

After the jump, endangered species under threat from palm oil logging, claims of plankton alive in space, fire ants invade Hawaii, too much gas in North Dakota, mine fires in Pennsylvania, and the latest chapter of the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

From BBC 2: ‘Super Rich: The Greed Game’


Broadcast, fittingly, on 1 April 2008 just as the bubble was bursting, this BBC 2 documentary, produced and directed by John O’Kane and narrated by Robert Peston, is a reminder that the modern “wealth creator” is rarely the inventor of some new product that makes our lives better but is rather an expert at manipulating the money game, in which creation of notional riches becomes the end rather than a mere byproduct of their efforts.

And at the center of the debacle were the central banksters, acting to ensure that confidence in currency, the prerequisite for green game players, was bolstered, despite all the screeching alarm bells.

And note that facilitating it all were the so-called “liberal” political parties, with Britain’s Labour Party and the Democrats in the U.S. greased the skids in the 1990s by deregulating financial markets and paving the way to an explosion of hedge fund wealth.

What is particularly galling is the rampant and unalloyed arrogance of the players to whom the rest of us, as one of them offhandedly remarks, are mere riffraff.

From BBC 2 via Underground Documentaries:

Super Rich: The Greed Game

Program note:

As the credit crunch bites and a global economic crisis threatens, Robert Peston reveals how the super-rich have made their fortunes, and the rest of us are picking up the bill.

Charts of the day: Ferguson’s soaring poverty rate


Census Tract-Level Poverty Rates in St. Louis County, 2000

Census Tract-Level Poverty Rates in St. Louis County, 2000

Census Tract-Level Poverty Rates in St. Louis County, 2008-2012

Census Tract-Level Poverty Rates in St. Louis County, 2008-2012

From a new report from the Brookings Institution, which includes tbese observations:

Ferguson has also been home to dramatic economic changes in recent years. The city’s unemployment rate rose from less than 5 percent in 2000 to over 13 percent in 2010-12. For those residents who were employed, inflation-adjusted average earnings fell by one-third. The number of households using federal Housing Choice Vouchers climbed from roughly 300 in 2000 to more than 800 by the end of the decade.

Amid these changes, poverty skyrocketed. Between 2000 and 2010-2012, Ferguson’s poor population doubled. By the end of that period, roughly one in four residents lived below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012), and 44 percent fell below twice that level.

These changes affected neighborhoods throughout Ferguson. At the start of the 2000s, the five census tracts that fall within Ferguson’s border registered poverty rates ranging between 4 and 16 percent. However, by 2008-2012 almost all of Ferguson’s neighborhoods had poverty rates at or above the 20 percent threshold at which the negative effects of concentrated poverty begin to emerge. (One Ferguson tract had a poverty rate of 13.1 percent in 2008-2012, while the remaining tracts fell between 19.8 and 33.3 percent.)

Read the rest.

Quote of the day: The real looters in Ferguson


From Guardian columnist Steven W Thrasher:

The symptoms of structural racism stain America everywhere, but its execution is particularly perverse in places like Ferguson. It’s not just that black drivers are stopped more often for alleged crimes than white drivers, despite the Missouri attorney general’s report that white people break the law more often. It’s not that Ferguson’s police force is 94% white in a town that’s two-thirds black. It’s not even, as Jeff Smith wrote in Monday’s New York Times, that black people – many unemployed – “do more to fund local government than relatively affluent whites” by way of those stops and the subsequent fines.

The real perversion of justice by way of modern American racism is that black people in Ferguson – like black people in the greater St Louis metropolitan area and nationally – are marginalized economically and physically from day one. That is the real looting of Ferguson.

We are consistently twice as likely to be unemployed – and in and near St Louis, “47 percent of the metro area’s African-American men between ages 16 and 24 are unemployed”. Our men are more likely to be convicted and our women are more likely to be evicted. We are more likely to be victims of predatory loans. Our children are twice as likely to have asthma (even before you teargas them). Our babies are twice as likely to die before the age of one – and their mothers are three or four times more likely to die as a result of bearing them.

In America, as Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in the Atlantic,“White flight was a triumph of social engineering, orchestrated by the shared racist presumptions of America’s public and private sectors.” But that engineering was perfected in St Louis, which Al Jazeera reported “has spent enormous sums of public money to spatially reinforce human segregation patterns”.

Read the rest.

Chart of the day: Will a robot grab your job?


From the Pew Research Center, charting how likely your job will end up in the metallic hands of a robot:

BLOG Robojobs

Reports: Ferguson, Missouri, and militarized cops


Three video reports, two from Democracy Now! and one from RT America, look at the Washington-fund-and-armed militarization of American police and the ongoing war on photographers and journalists by police unhappy with their reports.

From Democracy Now!:

Program notes:

Protests are continuing in Ferguson, Missouri, over the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager who was shot by police on Saturday. But the mood in Ferguson has changed drastically over the past 24 hours. On Wednesday night, the city looked like a warzone as police fired tear gas, stun grenades and smoke bombs. Police arrested at least 10 people, including a St. Louis alderman and two journalists. But last night the mood was less tense after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon put an African-American highway patrol captain, Ron Johnson, in charge of security in the town of Ferguson. Johnson marched with protesters and ordered the riot gear put away. We go to St. Louis to speak with the Rev. Renita Lamkin, who was hit with a rubber bullet by police on Wednesday while attending the protest, and Patricia Bynes, Democratic committee member of Ferguson Township.

[Editor's Note: Rev. Renita Lamkin was incorrectly identified during the interview. Democracy Now! regrets the error.]

From Democracy Now! again:

Cops or Soldiers? Pentagon, DHS Helped Arm Police in Ferguson with Equipment Used in War

Program notes:

The events in Ferguson over the past week have sparked a national debate over racial profiling and the militarization of local police forces. On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message.” What Holder did not mention was the federal government’s role in supplying local police forces with military-grade equipment. The New York Times reports Department of Homeland Security grant money paid for the $360,000 Bearcat armored truck on patrol in Ferguson. Most of the body armor worn by officers responding to the Ferguson protests was also paid for with federal money. We speak to Radley Balko, author of the book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.” “When we take domestic police officers and we train them like soldiers and we give them military gear and we dress them up like soldiers and we tell them they’re fighting a war — a war on crime or a war on terror — they’re going to start to see themselves as soldiers,” Balko says.

And from RT America:

Controlling the narrative: Ferguson police target journalists

Program notes:

Journalists reporting on the unrest in Ferguson, MO were in the crosshairs of police Wednesday night, with violence and intimidation directed at many prominent journalists. Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan J. Reilly of the Huffington Post made headlines after being confronted, assaulted and arrested without reason or justification given, while a crew from Al Jazeera America was targeted by SWAT forces who fired tear gas directly at the team while filming a protest. Christopher Chambers, a journalism professor at Georgetown University, explains to RT’s Ameera David why law enforcement seem to be targeting members of the media.

UPDATE: On a related note, consider this chart from Reuters:

BLOG Noteworthy

Human workers or redundant meat puppets


From C.G.P. Grey, a sobering look at the jobs likely to vanish as robotics extends its reach into virtually every sector of the labor force.

Humans Need Not Apply

His account is compelling, and the now-existing intrusions of machines making and moving products, and so much more cannot be denied.

One obvious question remains: All that “stuff” robots make, sell, and transport requires folks to buy it, but if people no longer have jobs that pay decent wages, then how will any economy sustain itself?

Just wondering. . .