Category Archives: Finance

Fear, fables, and fact: The age of raptor capitalism


Bill Moyers has evolved from the days he first crossed our path as press secretary to President Lyndon Johnson, a tragic figure who fought for the poorest Americans at home and waged war on the poorest people of Vietnam, rising up in rebellion against a small elite maintained in power only by the force of American arms.

A trained seminarian, Moyers moved into the political and journalism realms with a sense of mission of the sort we call the Sermon on the Mount version of Christianity, carrying with the sense of faith a belief that Christian communion involves sharing and giving of things as well as affirmations of faith.

There’s a peculiar version of Christianity implicit in the neoliberal ideology that has transformed the U.S. into an economic system where wealth inequality has reached unprecedented levels [a transformation we’ve witnessed as a journalist]. What else but Calvinism on meth enabled the fairly straightforward investments we recall writing about three and four decades back into today’s kaleidoscopic cascade of   hallucinatory derivatives, in turn piled onto a stock market in which the same share of stock may me traded hundreds of times in a single second?

What have we lost? How did we lose it?

On 4 February 2013, Jacobin published “The Politics of Debt in America,” an essay by historian and writer Steve Fraser from which comes this telling quote:

Today, we have entered a new phase.  What might be called capitalist underdevelopment and once again debt has emerged as both the central mode of capital accumulation and a principal mechanism of servitude.  Warren Buffett (of all people) has predicted that, in the coming decades, the United States is more likely to turn into a “sharecropper society” than an “ownership society.”

In our time, the financial sector has enriched itself by devouring the productive wherewithal of industrial America through debt, starving the public sector of resources, and saddling ordinary working people with every conceivable form of consumer debt.

Household debt, which in 1952 was at 36% of total personal income, had by 2006 hit 127%.  Even financing poverty became a lucrative enterprise.  Taking advantage of the low credit ratings of poor people and their need for cash to pay monthly bills or simply feed themselves, some check-cashing outlets, payday lenders, tax preparers, and others levy interest of 200% to 300% and more.  As recently as the 1970s, a good part of this would have been considered illegal under usury laws that no longer exist.  And these poverty creditors are often tied to the largest financiers, including Citibank, Bank of America, and American Express.

Fraser — who has taught at both Columbia and NYU — is author of the forthcoming The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power. Here’s author bio:

Steve Fraser is the author of Every Man a Speculator, Wall Street, and Labor Will Rule, which won the Philip Taft Award for the best book in labor history. He also is the co-editor of The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, The Nation, The American Prospect, Raritan, and the London Review of Books. He has written for the online site Tomdispatch.com, and his work has appeared on the Huffington Post, Salon, Truthout, and Alternet, among others. He lives in New York City.

With all that as prologue, here’s a very relevant discussion between Moyers and Fraser, via Moyers & Company:

Moyers & Company: The New Robber Barons

From the transcript:

BILL MOYERS: Fables?

STEVE FRASER: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: Of freedom?

STEVE FRASER: Yes. One of them is this notion of the free agent. That he’s out there and he’s going to reinvent himself. Another fable of freedom is an old one but it’s taken on new and very telling life in our time. And that is the fable that you can escape and be free privately through consumer culture. That that is the pathway to liberation. And that has always offered itself up all through the 20th century as a way of escape.

I don’t mean to minimize the importance of material wellbeing for people and the need to live a civilized life. To have what you need to live a civilized life. The material things you need. But we have advanced way beyond that. And we deal in fantasy to an extreme degree. And it’s very hard to resist this because the media in all of its various forms presents an image of the country which we’re all supposed to respect, admire and strive for which is at variance with the underlying social and economic reality that millions upon millions of people live.

We’re fascinated by the glitz, the glamor, the high tech. We think of our country as a consummately prosperous one. Even while every social indice indicates the opposite. That we are actually undergoing a process of– we are a developed country underdeveloping. And because what does development mean?

First of all, if it doesn’t mean– how is the general population faring? How– what is the measure of their well being? And if we look at stagnant, declining real wages. If we look at families that can no longer support themselves without multiple jobs. Without both spouses working. If we look at college students deeply in debt in order to, in theory, get that degree which promises them, and that’s an illusory promise to some very significant degree, some upward mobility. It’s that reality which the media often does not portray.

BILL MOYERS: How has the common opinion of elites changed since the first Gilded Age, the days of Carnegie and Rockefeller and the greatest industrialists of that period, and today?

STEVE FRASER: I think elites during the first Gilded Age, the people we sometimes, we used to call the robber barons, were held in great suspicion. Their motives were doubted. They seemed to be behaving in ways that violated the notions of economic justice. Of religious propriety. They seemed to be placing money before all else. They seemed to be threats to the democratic way of life. They were buying Supreme Court justices. They were buying senators and so on. They seemed to be an imminent threat to the American birthright of the democratic revolution.

Elites in our second Gilded Age, in our day, are far less frequently thought to be guilty of that, and on the contrary, as the champions of the free market are thought to be our wise men. Our savants.

BILL MOYERS: Even though the free market fails time and–

STEVE FRASER: Right. Time and again. Right.

BILL MOYERS: Here’s an irony to me. In the recent midterm elections, exit polls showed that 63 percent of the voters believe that the economy works only for the wealthy. Only 32 percent believe that the economy includes everyday people. And yet look how the vote went. Look who the victors were.

STEVE FRASER: Well, there could be nothing more telling that we are indeed living in an acquiescent moment than those kinds of statistics. And those kinds of statistics have been around for a long time. On the one hand, both political parties have run, the Republicans more swiftly than the Democrats, have run far away from the kind of social programs, welfare programs, infrastructure investments, progressive taxation, for fear that they will offend the right, the very powerful and vocal right in American life.

EbolaWatch: Numbers, fear, aid, politics


From the Centers for Disease Control, the latest Ebola numbers for the three hardest hit West African countries:

BLOLG Ebola cases

From the CDC report, the latest corresponding Ebola curves:

BLOG Ebola curves

The Washington Post covers a high level visit:

UN chief visits Ebola-ravaged West African nations

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised health workers battling Ebola in Sierra Leone and Liberia on Friday, saying they have shown “the most noble face of humankind” amid an epidemic that has killed more than 6,900 people in West Africa.

Ban, who made stops in both countries on Friday, travels Saturday to Guinea where the Ebola virus first emerged a year ago.

“Today we have reason to be cautiously optimistic that this terrible outbreak can be defeated,” said Ban at a news conference with Liberia’s president.

“Our response strategy is working — where people are gaining access to treatment, where contacts are being traced, burials are becoming safer, communities are mobilizing to protect themselves,” he said.

Then to Liberia for that election, via the New York Times:

Liberia Will Proceed With Senate Vote Delayed by Ebola

Senate elections that were repeatedly delayed because of the Ebola epidemic and legal challenges, and further complicated by a presidential ban on large political gatherings in the capital, will finally be held in Liberia on Saturday. Whether they will be fair, peaceful and safe is unclear.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has said the elections, first scheduled more than two months ago but postponed twice, must be held, otherwise the nine-year terms of half the members in the 30-seat Senate will expire with no successors, provoking a constitutional crisis. Critics have said mass gatherings at the polls raise the risk of more contagion that would aggravate the Ebola crisis, which had shown signs of easing in this country of four million.

Last Saturday, the Supreme Court agreed with Ms. Johnson Sirleaf, saying it would not halt the vote. “It is not our place to decide whether it is appropriate to conduct elections at this time or any other time,” said the chief justice, Francis S. Korkpor.

The elections are not only seen as a test of whether Liberia, one of the three worst-hit West African countries in the Ebola epidemic, can conduct the voting without inadvertently spreading an insidious disease. They are also seen as a barometer of Ms. Johnson Sirleaf’s popularity. The most hotly contested Senate seat pits her son, Robert, against George Manneh Weah, a former soccer star and presidential aspirant. The seat represents the capital region, where nearly half the country’s people live.

Next, on to Sierra Leone and a dose of seasonal angst from NBC News:

Could Christmas Worsen Ebola’s Spread?

  • It worries Dr. Dan Kelly. And officials in Sierra Leone were concerned enough to limit public gatherings for the holidays.

Right now, Ebola is raging out of control in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown. It’s barely under control in outlying districts like Kono and Kenema. The epidemic started as people traveled across the region’s porous borders, and this will be the first Christmas and New Year holiday since the epidemic started.

“You have a couple of million people in Freetown and I’d say 50-plus percent of those people in Freetown are interested in traveling back to remote villages for the holidays,” Kelly told NBC News.

“And they’ll spend a week there,” added Kelly, who’s worked in Sierra Leone on and off since 2006. “It could spread Ebola all around the country and just create hundreds of hotspots for sure.”

Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, says travel between all parts of the country has been restricted as part of “Operation Western Area Surge,” an effort to get a handle on the epidemic. He says public gatherings will be strictly controlled in the run-up to Christmas.

The Sierra Leone Concord Times covers belated vaccinations coming:

Ebola vaccine to be available in March

Director of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine yesterday revealed in Freetown that a new vaccine for the deadly Ebola virus disease, which has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Sierra Leoneans, will be available in March 2015.

Speaking at a press briefing organised by the Ministry of Information and Communications, Professor Peter Piot said they were in the country to have first-hand information about the disease, do research for developing an Ebola vaccine and getting prepared for a further outbreak.

“Since the first outbreak in 1976 in Congo, we have not been able to develop any effective cure for it. But we will make sure not to miss this opportunity to develop a vaccine that will be first implemented here in February or March 2015,” said the professor who co-discovered the Ebola virus in Zaire while working at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium.

A perspective of bodies from two different tragedies, via the Washington Post:

In Sierra Leone, the ghosts of war haunt an Ebola graveyard

To find Andrew Kondoh, walk through the gates of this city’s largest cemetery, where teams in moonsuits bury more than 50 bodies in white plastic bags each day. Look for the man with the wispy goatee and big belly, who is overseeing one of the world’s most chaotic, dangerous graveyards as if he’s done it all before.

That’s because he has.

Twenty years ago, when he was 13, Kondoh took it upon himself to guard a heap of bodies, people killed by rebels during the country’s civil war. For three years, as the pile grew, he protected them from being trampled or picked at by dogs. When that conflict ended, Kondoh made a promise to himself. He was done working with the dead.

Then Ebola surged in Sierra Leone.

“It’s like I’m back there again,” Kondoh said. “Except this time I don’t see the faces in the body bags. I just imagine them.”

The United Nations Development Programme covers a novel way to pay front line workers:

Mobile money for 16,000 Ebola workers

Marion Sesay gossiped with her two work colleagues while they waited in the shade of a local money handler for their names to be called.

She and her friends, nurses at a nearby hospital, are entitled to hazard pay, an extra bit of money every two weeks to offset the risk of working in health care during Ebola times.

“The money is helping us greatly,” Ms. Sesay said. “We can use the money for our kids, for our families. The money is good, but we just want this thing to end.”

For the third installment of their hazard pay entitlement, Sesay and her national colleagues, some 16,000 recipients across Sierra Leone, received text messages on their phones: how much money to expect and where to pick it up with a security code.

The system, a mobile money transfer scheme, was implemented for the first time the week before Christmas with a great deal of satisfaction.

UPDATE: We inadvertently omitted a video, forthwith rectified. From Agence France-Presse:

Sierra Leone bikers spread the message to fight Ebola

Program notes:

More than 100 motorcyclists hit the road to spread awareness messages about Ebola. Nearly 7,000 people have now died from the virus, almost all of them in west Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

A call for a debt jubilee from the Sierra Leone Concord Times:

Calls for IMF, World Bank to cancel Salone debts

The Budget Advocacy Network (BAN) and Jubilee Debt Campaign UK are calling for the immediate cancelation of debts owed by Sierra Leone externally, especially those owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

The IMF is demanding that Sierra Leone repay the sum of US$2.7 million this week, a further US$1.8 million on Christmas Eve and US$1 million on 29 December this year.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone owe a whopping US$464 million to the IMF, out of a total debt of US$3.6 billion.

In 2015, the debt payments of the three countries worst affected by the Ebola outbreak are expected to be US$130 million, including US$21 million to the IMF.

And the president’s State House Communications Unit covers a notable visitor:

Ebola Scientist Assures President Koroma

The Director of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) Professor Peter Piot Thursday 18 December assured government of their support in the fight against Ebola through the development of a vaccine that will bring a final halt to the spreading virus.

He made this assurance during a courtesy call on President Ernest Bai Koroma at State Lodge, Hill Station.

The distinguished Belgian microbiologist well-known for his research on Ebola and AIDS is in the country to support government’s fight against the disease and discuss how best science, innovation and discovery can better contribute to defeating the virus.

Welcoming the delegation, President Koroma expressed his profound delight for receiving Prof. Piot, who had been involved with Ebola outbreaks since 1976 and has played a significant role trying to bring a closure to the epidemic.

EbolaWatch: Numbers, campaigns, predictions


We begin with the New York Times and a positive note:

Fewer Ebola Cases Go Unreported Than Thought, Study Finds

Transmission of the Ebola virus occurs mostly within families, in hospitals and at funerals, not randomly like the flu, Yale scientists said Tuesday, and far fewer cases go unreported than has previously been estimated.

That implies, they said, that the epidemic is unlikely to reach the gloomy scenarios of hundreds of thousands of cases that studies released in September had forecast were possible; the most pessimistic one, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had predicted up to 1.4 million cases by late January.

The new study, led by epidemiologists from the Yale School of Public Health, was published online by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. Scientists from Texas, Brazil and the Liberian Health Ministry contributed to the research.

Leaving Al Jazeera English with the downbeat:

Survivors cope with new Ebola after-effects

  • Victims spared by the deadly disease are reporting blindness and other unexpected post-Ebola health issues

“My eyes are dark,” she said sadly. “Even when the sun is shining, my eyes are dark.” Kamara said she was happy to have survived Ebola, but fear and misery were etched onto her face.

Kamara is one of 40 percent of Ebola survivors to have gone on to develop eye problems, according to a recent study carried out by the World Health Organisation and Kenema’s District Health Management Team. It has been more than a month since the district saw it’s last case of Ebola, and attention is turning to the plight of survivors.

The results of the survey, a copy of which was seen by Al Jazeera, outline a raft of physical, social and psychological problems the survivors are experiencing.

Seventy-nine percent, for example, now suffer from joint pain; 42 percent have problems sleeping, while more than one-third of those surveyed experienced peeling of the skin. Many others reported problems with their reproductive system.

From the Washington Post, a plea for what should be a given, in both senses of the word:

UN commission asks for Ebola debt forgiveness

A U.N. commission is asking for more debt cancellations for the three West African nations hardest hit by the Ebola virus.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa said Monday that it is crucial that the current Ebola health crisis not be a catalyst for financial distress in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

Carlos Lopez, a U.N. under secretary-general and the executive secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, appealed in Ethiopia on Monday for loan forgiveness.

A new report on the socio-economic impact of Ebola said the overall impact on Africa should be minimal because the three countries account for only 0.68 percent of Africa’s GDP. The report estimates that Ebola’s impact on the continent’s GDP levels in 2014 and 2015 will be only -0.19 percent and -0.15 percent.

On to Liberia, where BBC News covers an infusion of help:

Ebola serum supply reaches Liberia

Liberia has begun treating Ebola patients with serum therapy – a treatment made from the blood of recovered survivors.

Doctors hope the experimental treatment could help combat the virus that has been sweeping West Africa and killing thousands of people.

If a person has successfully fought off the infection, it means their body has learned how to combat the virus and they will have antibodies in their blood that can attack Ebola.

Doctors can then take a sample of their blood and turn it into serum – by removing the red blood cells but keeping the important antibodies – which can be used to treat other patients.

Ebola patients treated in the UK and the US have already received this type of treatment.

Decline affirmed, via the Monrovia Inquirer:

Ebola Cases Still Decreasing…Internal Affairs Minister Discloses

Internal Affairs Minister, Morris Dukuly, has corroborated reports that the Ebola virus is still decreasing as efforts continue by government and its partners to eradicate it in the country.     Speaking at the Ministry of Information regular press briefing on Ebola, the Minister said as the Ebola crisis continues to decrease in the country, members of the Ebola Burial Team need to be remembered and considered as heroes as well as health workers.

The Minister noted that the burial team has played a significant role in the fight against the virus and as such they should be encouraged and appreciated, noting that they stand a high risk of getting in contact with the virus. “ As we all know, since the outbreak of the virus people have always talked about the nurses and doctors who have fallen prey to the virus and those who are still in the fight but not many attentions have been paid to the Burial Team something I think we need to consider. Those young men are risking their lives on a daily basis, so it is fair enough for us to appreciate them as well.”

Minister Dukuly encouraged citizens to continue all the necessary preventive measures given by the Ministry of Health and its partners noting that Ebola is real and it is still in the country and as such people should not be complacent of the fact that cases are on the decrease.

Front line fighters recover, via the NewDawn:

Liberian healthcare providers discharged

D’Geedawoi stops just long enough to look back and share a smile with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officers waiting beside the Ebola survivor board for the release of the next patient.

D’Geedawoi, a father of 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls, with his wife Sadatu age 32, is grateful for all that was done for him at the Monrovia Medical Unit (MMU) but he is anxious to get home.

D’Geedawoi, age 46, is full of energy and ready to return to his work as a Drug Dispenser and Contact Tracer.  He told us, “ever since I experienced the illness of Ebola all I could think about was death.”

He went on to say that after being infected and then getting the news that he was negative, he felt encouraged to tell others about this place.

D’Geedawoi said, “I will be happy if I can be of any kind of assistance for you all. I want to get out in the field and get the message out there because I have been saved.”

The Liberian Observer covers a showdown over a government-imposed ban on political assemblies:

Looming City Lockdown: CDC Plans 3-Day March

Opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) has decided to stage another “city lockdown” in and around Monrovia, the party’s vice chairman for Operations, Mulbah Morlu, has announced.

Addressing a news conference yesterday in Monrovia, CDC disclosed the staging of a three-day political rally aimed at creating the platform where their political leader, Ambassador George M. Weah, will interact with the “ordinary Liberian people.”

According to Morlu, who is also CDC deputy campaign manager, the party has decided to begin “a three-day roadmap to victory,” parade through the streets of Monrovia, beginning with various market places in the city.

“CDC will begin parading the streets with Amb. Weah beginning with the Small Town Community behind our party’s headquarters and move on to the Peace Island Community in Congo Town.

From the NewDawn, a warning:

Another Serious Ebola Outbreak is Possible, If…

National and international publicity characterizing what may appear to be a gradual decline in the spread of the deadly Ebola virus disease in Liberia may not have just done justice to the fight against the epidemic, but encouraged complacency among some Liberians.

As a result of such publicity, some, including those involved with political campaigns, especially in Monrovia and its environs, have already been disregarding the public health laws, as well as preventive measures authorized by the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Health and partners.  Political rallies are occasioning huge gathering of supporters and sympathizers of candidates, while hugging and handshaking has resumed; vehicles carrying supporters of candidates are over-loaded with the belief that “Ebola is finishing.”

These violations of the public health laws may not necessarily be occurring un-noticed by the National Elections Commission, Ministry of Health and Liberia National Police. Whether or not it is out of embarrassment or fear that actions are yet to be taken against these violators, it is yet to be established. All we say is that these violations are taking place, while those responsible to enforce the laws remain conspicuously silent.

And should these violations continue as they are under the eyes of those who should enforce the laws, the possibility of another serious Ebola outbreak is high.  While we highlight the foregoing issues, the attention of the Government of Liberia and partners must again be drawn to the current severity of the Ebola outbreak in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Even though we may be aware that the Liberian health authorities are cognizant of such development, the issue of border control is very paramount.

And from FrontPageAfrica, a faith-based effort:

Ebola Outreach Goes To Muslim Neighborhoods in Liberia

A team from the Montserrado Community Based Initiative Project (MCBIP) over the weekend took Ebola sensitization outreach to Muslim neighborhoods in West Point. The team headed by Varlee Sanor, United Nations Volunteer (UNV) Field Associate on the MCBI project, held meetings with Muslims at the West Point Central Mosque on Saturday and Sunday.

The meeting was intended to solicit the views of members of the Muslim community and to seek possible ways of collaborating to battle the deadly Ebola virus disease in communities. These are efforts geared toward promoting and enforcing the Liberian Government “zero new Ebola cases” by December 25. The gathering was necessitated by reports about continuous denial, secret burials in the communities, hiding of sick and other anti-Ebola practices in the communities.

During the meetings, Sanor told the Muslims not to be complacent, as the virus was still in the country and continues to kill people in communities in Liberia. He said many people in Liberia have heard and accepted the preventive messages, but continue to be blinded by different cultural and traditional practices.”The fight against the Ebola virus has been difficult not because the messages are not reaching the people, but because of culture and traditions…” Mr. Sanor said.He told the Muslim community that the government and partners were working to ensure that their dead family members are handled with the care and respect they deserve.

After the jump, on to Sierra Leone with a strike threat followed by help from the U.N., the government mobilizes fear for the fight, British predictions of better times ahead coupled with word to America to keep out, a chief calls for quarantine, and the plight of Sierra Leone’s Ebola victims, Mali nears an all-clear, and concluding with a soap brigade in Guinea. . . Continue reading

Hope™ and Change™ — for banksters only


Two graphic takes on a Citibank-authored add-on to the federal budget dropping the post-Mortgagegate ban on banks trading in those oh-so-tempting  highly risky derivatives of the sort that brought the whole thing crashing down and stuck the rest of us with the bill. . .

First, from David Horsey of the Los Angeles Times:

BLOG Horsey

And from the Jack Ohman, editorial cartoonist of the Sacramento Bee:

BLOG Ohman

Rap News: Tacklin’ the New World Order


Direct from Melbourne, Australia, we bring you the latest edition of Juice Rap News, created by Giordano Nanni and Hugo Farrant, this time targeting yet another powerful meme.

From their YouTube channel, thejuicemedia:

The New World Order [RAP NEWS 30]

Program Notes:

The New World Order: They control the world’s governments; THEY rule over all of us from the top of the pyramid. While WE suffer at the bottom. Right? Today we blow open the truth about the NWO in order to shed light on this widespread conspiracy which has frequently been invoked to explain the state of our world. Join intrepid host Robert Foster as he takes control of the lever of critical inquiry, alongside special guests Russell Brand, conspiracy guru Terrence Moonseed, and NWO representative William De Berg, in order to ask: who is the New World Order? And how can we stop it?

Warning: This episode of Rap News has been in the making since we started the show, 5 years ago. No punches will be pulled, no quarter will be given, and no depth will be left unplumbed on this arduous quest for the harsh truth. Welcome to the New World Order, bitches.

Written & created by Giordano Nanni & Hugo Farrant in a suburban backyard home studio in Melbourne, Australia, on Wurundjeri Land.

The pyramid of the hierarchy of control/power is posted here, and worthy of your consideration [click on the image to enlarge for legibility].

EbolaWatch: Broken systems, numbers, fear


First some good news from Berkeley for a had-pressed Liberian newspaper via the paper in question, FrontPageAfrica:

Berkeley Professor Donates Anti-Ebola Gears, Cameras to FPA

Rachel Mercy Simpson, Department Chair of Multimedia Arts, at  Berkeley City College, knew she had to step in when she heard the Publisher of FrontPageAfrica describe to NPR’s “On the Media” the  challenges he and his team of reporters are going through on the front line of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.

“As an award-winning newspaper, FrontPageAfrica is in a powerful position to communicate with people across West Africa, to encourage safer practices and to reduce the spread of Ebola. FPA reporters put their lives on the line to cover the stories even though they lack rudimentary safety gear. I want to help them out,” wrote Mercy-Simpson to her family and colleagues. Mercy-Simpson, who is married to a Tanzanian and whose father is from South Africa, says while neither countries are neighbors to Ebola-hit Liberia, she felt a need to reach out. “We care about what’s going on in Africa. The devastation to families and the economy in Liberia is terrible. And no one wants to see Ebola spread any further.”

When she learned from the NPR interview that FrontPageAfrica reporters lacked safety gear, Mercy-Simpson immediately contacted the FrontPageAfrica publisher and asked how she could help. “As a filmmaker, I grasped the danger of their not having a telephoto lens and how FPA reporters needed to get close to people who were very sick in order to photograph them.”

The accompanying photo:

BLOG Prof

From Deutsche Welle, numbers:

WHO releases latest Ebola figures

  • The latest figures from the World Health Organization show another increase in the Ebola death toll. Nearly 6,600 people have died from the virus since the worst outbreak on record began early this year.

The latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) show 6,583 people have died out of 18,188 recorded Ebola cases.

The Geneva-based UN health agency reported that the majority of infections and deaths were in the West African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The WHO said earlier in the week that the death toll had remained the same in other countries also affected by the disease: six in Mali, one in the US and eight in Nigeria, which was declared Ebola free in October. Spain and Senegal have also counted one case of infection each, but were declared free of the virus in recent weeks.

Numbers contested, via StarAfrica:

S/Leone: Information Minister challenges WHO Ebola figures

Sierra Leone’s Information Minister said Thursday contrary to figures reported by the Western media and the World Health Organization (WHO), cases of infection by the Ebola epidemic were reducing in the country.Alhaji Alpha Kanu said, based on figures from the Ministry of Health and the National Ebola Response Center (NERC), the country was recorded an average of less than 40 new infections a day, “contrary to what you hear on BBC, courtesy of WHO,” he said.

He said what the media is reporting falls far behind the reality on the ground. “That’s patently not true,” he told reporters at the weekly government press conference.

At a separate engagement via an online press conference with the international media, Mr Kanu was cited disputing WHO`s report on the diamond-rich Kono which claimed 87 dead bodies were discovered with 123 sick people from “forgotten” part of the district.

Ebolaphobia strikes again, from AllAfrica:

Sudan Repatriates 26 Nigerians Over Ebola Fears

The Sudanese authorities have denied 26 Nigerians entry into their country over suspicion that they were possibly infected by the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease, one of those repatriated has told PREMIUM TIMES.

Hauwa’u Ibrahim Bakori, a second year student of Pharmacy at Al Ahfad University for Women, Omdurman, said she and 25 others were denied entry after arriving Khartoum Airport on Wednesday.

They were detained, and then deported to Nigeria on Thursday, Ms. Bakori said.

Ms Bakori is in her second year at the Sudanese university and had travelled to Nigeria on holidays.

From teleSUR, an aid effort praised:

UNICEF Recognizes Cuban Efforts in Fight Against Ebola

  • The children’s rights organisation is the latest body to highlight Cuba’s role.

The representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) regional office in Central Africa recognized Cuba’s humanitarian efforts to fight Ebola on Saturday.

Cuba has sent more than 460 doctors and nurses to nations struck by Ebola such as Sierra Leone.

‘’We are carrying out a series of gatherings with nations that offer cooperation like the case of Cuba, we want to take those countries into account for next year’s Unicef aid programming in African nations,’‘ said UNICEF’s Brigitte Helali, from Equatorial Guinea where she is evaluating Unicef aid programs.

Helali also highlighted the progress Cuba has made in healthcare overall with special mention for their work with pregnant women and children under five years old.

From the Associated Press, that same effort stymied by Washington:

US embargo stalled payment to Cuban Ebola doctors

A World Health Organization official says Cuba had to cover food and lodging expenses for dozens of its doctors fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone after the U.S. embargo made it impossible for the global health group to pay them.

U.S. officials as high as Secretary of State John Kerry have praised the Cuban effort against Ebola. But the longstanding embargo affects virtually all dealings with Cubans, even for banks outside the U.S., because they depend on dollar transfers through U.S. institutions.

Jose Luis Di Fabio, the health agency’s representative for Cuba, said it had to request special licenses from the U.S. Treasury Department to transfer money to the doctors in Africa.

The government-employed doctors only recently received payments dating as far back as October, he said.

And from teleSUR English, what those doctors are doing in the country where the need is most great:

Sierra Leone: Cuban doctors reducing Ebola cases

Program notes:

While new cases of Ebola continue to arise in Sierra Leone, the Cuban medical teams on the scene, working alongside local health care workers, are confident that they can continue to contain and reduce the epidemic. Close collaboration and friendships have been forged with US medical workers who admire Cuba’s role and record in providing health care to all. Oskar Epelde reports from Porto Loko

A honcho named, via AllAfrica:

West Africa: UN Chief Appoints New Envoy for Ebola

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Friday appointed Ismail Ahmed of Mauritania as his new Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, UNMEER.

This was contained in a statement issued by Ban’s Spokesperson, Stephane DuJarric in New York.

According to the statement, as Special Representative, Mr. Ahmed will work closely with the Special Envoy on Ebola, David Nabarro and with the governments of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone and other partners.

Mr. Ahmed succeeds Anthony Banbury of the U.S., who would return to New York in early January 2015.

And from the U.S. News Center, an urgent plea:

UN meeting urges critical improvements to health systems of Ebola-affected countries

The international community must help Ebola-affected countries reboot their health systems so that they emerge from the current crisis more resilient and more focused on prevention efforts than ever before, a high-level meeting coordinated by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva heard today.

“People in Ebola-affected countries are dying – not only from Ebola but also from other causes – because the majority of health facilities in these countries are either not functional or people are not using them for fear of contracting Ebola,” said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, the WHO’s Assistant Director-General of Health Systems and Innovation, in a news release.

“A health system has to be able to both absorb the shock of an emergency like Ebola, and to continue to provide regular health services such as immunization and maternal and child care.”

At the meeting, participants – which included Ministers of Health and Finance from countries at the epicentre of the Ebola epidemic as well as international organizations and development partners – discussed methods of integration for health services spanning clinical care to surveillance, health promotion, disease prevention and management and palliative care.

In particular, noted the WHO news release, areas of improvement included “significantly strengthening” the health workforce; enhancing community trust, engagement and ownership; and ensuring the development of resilient sub-national health systems. In addition, the movement of people across the borders of the Ebola-affected countries spotlighted the “important” need for a greater coordination of trans-national health plans and an alignment of surveillance systems.

Another expanded effort, via Voice of America:

UNICEF Expanding Fight Against Ebola

The U.N. Children’s Fund is appealing for an additional $300 million to expand its fight against Ebola in the three heavily affected West African countries over the next six months. UNICEF said gaining the confidence of community members, increasing their awareness and knowledge of modes of transmission and prevention are key to winning the battle against this deadly disease.

UNICEF officials said money from the appeal would be used to tackle two major drivers of Ebola transmission: lack of early isolation of patients and unsafe burials.  Both of these issues are wound up with traditional cultural practices, which often have stymied aid agencies’ efforts to prevent people from getting infected with the disease and spreading it to others.

Community involvement is absolutely essential to ending this epidemic.  UNICEF’s crisis communications chief, Sarah Crowe, said recent surveys indicate people gradually have been changing their behavior for the better.

And from the New York Times, contesting the Ebola fight:

Contest Seeks Novel Tools For the Fight Against Ebola

The well-prepared Ebola fighter in West Africa may soon have some new options: protective gear that zips off like a wet suit, ice-cold underwear to make life inside the sweltering suits more bearable, or lotions that go on like bug spray and kill or repel the lethal virus.

Those ideas are among the contenders to win the Ebola “Grand Challenges” contest announced in October by the United States Agency for International Development, or among those being considered by the agency without having formally entered the contest.

All still need to undergo testing, and some may prove impractical, but the 1,500 contest submissions “blew the roof off the number of responses we’ve ever had,” said Wendy Taylor, director of U.S.A.I.D.’s Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact.

The agency’s Grand Challenges, modeled on those begun a decade ago by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have produced some nifty inventions, the best known of which is a device for helping women in obstructed labor that was invented by an Argentine auto mechanic after he saw a YouTube video on using a plastic bag to get a cork out of a wine bottle.

After the jump it’s on to Sierra Leone with doctors sounding the alarm, how a single case triggered a chain reaction of death, the U.N.’s Ebola emissary calls for an anti-epidemic surge, Freetown charges chiefs with containing the epidemic, Christmas and New Year’s gatherings banned, and the capital sends a strong anti-graft warning, then on to Liberia and the debilitating impacts of two viral epidemics on the economy, why the U.N. is maintaining a Liberian arms embargo, motorcycle transport riders join the Ebola fight, 1,300 volunteer case trackers recruited by the UN, healed patients head home, and an education system left in shambles. . . Continue reading

Bernie Sanders breaks it down: The rich win


In a deft takedown of the new spending bill, Sen. Bernie Sanders places the trillion-dollar spending package in the context of the flow of wealth to the few at the very top as the national infrastructure collapses and families fall further behind and the young are burdened with ever-larger debt obligations to obtain an education that will merely enable them to tread water while the elderly see their pensions and Social Security payments covering less of their living expenses.

One family, the Waltons [no, not those Waltons, but the Walmart Waltons] owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans, while 90 percent of new income goes to the top one percent.

The major beneficiaries of the package are defense contractors, most of whom, as Sanders notes have been found guilty of fraud or made settlements with the government for  constantly underestimating costs, then collecting payments for massive overruns.

The bill also allows significant benefit cuts for employees who belong to more than one pension plan and can end in disaster for millions of middle class employees. In some case, cuts can reach half of the promised pension benefits. Meanwhile, the banksters who caused the crisis used to justify the draconian cuts escaped punishment and continue to salt away their millions and billions.

Anyone who things that Congress regulates Wall Street has it backwards, Sanders said. With their power and wealth and massive campaign funding, its the banksters who regulate Congress and write the laws the pass.

And now Wall Street’s giants have infused the spending bill with a provision repealing the regulations passed in wakes of the crash that imposed weak but real limitations on their rampant greed, setting the stage for another crash [and bailout] to come.

From his YouTube channel:

Bernie Sander: Wall Street Wins Again

Program notes:

Sen. Bernie Sanders discusses the omnibus appropriations bill on the Senate floor.