Preparing a lecture on the commodity cycle for smart phones (with emphasis on the [not so] lovely working conditions of Congolese cobalt miners and Chinese electronic component workers for rip-off companies like Flextronics (1.5 million employees worldwide)…came across the growing figures for electronic waste. Some interesting figures…for 2012 a whopping 50 million tons (not pounds or kilos but TONS) of electronic waste was produced – throw away cell phones, computers…all that stuff that people world-wide buy every two years. Leading the wasters is China which alone produces 12 million tons of electronic waste, the US of A nibbling at Peking’s heels, producing some 10 million tons. It is expected that by 2017 that there will be 33% increase in electronic waste worldwide predicted to top off at 65 million tons, something to look forward to…but I’m hoping we, the USA, failing hegemonic power, can overtake China by then and become NUMBER ONE AGAIN…something to aspire towards…then we can say we have the most foreign military bases in the world (more than 900 worldwide – next competitor is France with 5, China has none) and that we waste the most electronic equipment, more than any other country, I mean what kind of superpower is the United States anyway if it can’t produce more electronic waste than China.
So far the Ebola virus has effected exactly three people in the United States. Yet there is so little coverage these days about the Ebola outbreak where it is actually taking place – in West Africa, Sierre Leone, Guinea, Liberia or the fact that the health services in Senegal and Nigeria the outbreak has been contained. Instead we read election-produced scare tactics of the few cases that are emerging in the USA with Republicans having triggered a national fear crisis in hopes that this will help them over the top in the upcoming mid-term elections in a few weeks. As usual, the Democratic response to this cynical public relations campaign, is tepid…if that.
Although the United States has considerable medical resources to fight such an epidemic, that the Ebola virus could spread, follow a global path like that of the AIDS virus 40 years ago, is not at all impossible. Much depends right now on stemming the disease’s spread in Africa before it reaches even greater epidemic proportions there and moves aggressively beyond the continent.
Shutting our country’s borders – which seems to be the way the United States deals with many international problems – might have “public relations value” that play on fear, but medical authorities point out it is a rather useless tactic in putting out the Ebola fire. That requires, to use too oft-repeated term – boots on the ground…medical boots that is. It is only in recent weeks that a major shift to transfer more human resources to the region has started to take place while thousands have died in the three countries including hundreds of medical workers.
In Sierre Leone, the news continues to be grim, at least 1200 killed, probably an understatement. Region-wide now the number of infected has reached 10,000. The World Health Organization estimates that 70% of those will probably die. The disease is far from having been contained and continues to spread. As it does, the lackluster foreign effort to combat it continues to grow as the potential for the crisis to spread that much further intensifies. And grow it will underlining the urgent need for a coordinated global campaign targeting West Africa to contain its spread and hopefully eliminate it. No country alone, to say nothing of those directly affected by the Ebola crisis, can overcome the virus by itself.
Both the United States, Britain and other countries have started to dramatically increase their commitment in terms of personnel and equipment. For example, in August, Britain announced it would set up a hospital with space for 300 beds; in recent days, they have announced that now they will provide for 4000 beds for Ebola patients within a month. This past week the United States also upped its commitment. After a stingy initial commitment, the Obama Administration has greatly increased both its financial and human pledges promising $400 million in aid and a pledge to send some 4,000 troops to the region to help with the logistics of fighting the growing plague. Up until now Washington’s contribution was limited to 65 uniformed officers from the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, as reported in The Wall Street Journal
Perhaps “(not so) great powers” like the United States and Britain have been embarrassed, if not shamed into upping their ante by Cuba’s effort? According to the Christian Science Monitor (Oct. 15, 2014), Havana announced that it would immediately dispatch 165 health workers to Sierre Leone to deal with the Ebola outbreak. A few days later, Cuba announced that it would send 296 doctors and nurses to ailing Liberia as well. These medical delegations are, apparently, only the beginning, a small percentage of those Cuban medical workers who have said they too are willing to go.
While the media here in the United States celebrates the precious few medical personnel here willing to lay their lives on the line for others, in Cuba there seems to be quite a different attitude towards addressing the Ebola crisis. While Cuba too is taking health precautions, its main concern appears to be how to give concrete aid to the people of West Africa suffering from the outbreak. It should also be noted, that while underfunded due to the country’s ongoing economic crisis caused by 64 years of U.S. imposed sanctions that Cuba has one of the few tropical medicine research centers anywhere.
Imagine! A country that thinks beyond its own national interests, and it appears to have, all the propaganda against it aside, a genuine spirit of empathy, solidarity for their fellow African human beings. Now novel! As the same article notes. “Cuban state media reports that some 15,000 health professionals have expressed an interest in traveling to West African nations to help.” For those who would argue that all this is little more than a Castro propaganda stunt, it might be pointed out that Cuba has a long history of providing medical aid to countries in need. As the same Christian Science Monitor article points out:
Soon after its revolution, Cuba sent doctors to Chile to help the nation recover from a deadly 1960 earthquake.
• Cuba sent 2,500 health workers to Pakistan after an earthquake in 2005.
• 1,500 Cuban health professionals traveled to Haiti after its 2010 earthquake.
• Some 30,000 Cubans currently work in Venezuela’s health system; Cuba is partially paid in oil for its contribution.
• An estimated 4,500 Cuban doctors are currently (2014)supplementing Brazil’s public health system in rural parts of the country or undesirable city neighborhoods.
Another recent article, this one in The Nation magazine (Oct. 15, 2014) adds more perspective to Cuba’s medical contribution to poor countries in need.
“Havana’s been sending healthcare workers to Africa since the early 1960s, staffing clinics and training medical faculties, including in Guinea-Bissau, Uganda and Equatorial Guinea. When white doctors fled South Africa after the end of apartheid, Cuba stepped in. According to one report, Cuba in 2007 had 30,000 healthcare professionals, including 19,000 doctors, working in over 103 countries.”
Addressing this health crisis, thus, it is Cuba, more than any country that has shown the way. Let us hope that the nations of the rest of the world follow, for this is one crisis, like global warming, that will require a major international effort in which no one country, large or small, will be able to resolve the issue on its own.
Ah, if Raytheon could only develop an Ebola drone!! Wouldn’t this solve everything? A technical fix to stop these undocumented, illegal microbes from entering the country. Its production would make profits for the military industrial complex to boot, always an important consideration in the country’s economic well-being these days. A micro-weapon to be directed by a microchip that could be anus inserted, like a suppository. Cutting edge technology!
As they, drones, come in all sizes these days, it needs to be made small enough to enter the human bloodstream to attack all those nasty viruses. Of course the will be collateral damage, a lung here, a kidney there, a testicle here, an ovary there ..but given precision bombing of our developing micro-weapons we could find a way to fight the virus and keep down our own organ casualties.
Go for it!
Here in the United States, as would be expected to a certain degree, much media attention focuses on the growing number of Ebola cases of people States-side. On some level, this concern is needed to prevent the disease from spreading here in the United States.
Let’s keep in mind that while vigilance is appropriate that the kind of scare tactics which are currently being employed by the nation’s Republican Party in an effort to swing the upcoming mid-term elections their way, have transformed a potential danger into something approaching a panic, with the media and certain elements of the government responsible for it and it is pretty cynical stuff. Read more…
Ebola and the American Christian Right: Fine-tuned Nincompoopery
This country’s Christian Right, at least some of its more prominent voices, spokespeople, are at it again, defying reason in their rush to see signs of the Second Coming wherever. In this respect many of them see the Ebola virus, and the possibility of it exploding as a full-scale pandemic, as “a sign.” But then they tend to see everything as a “sign” of the Second Coming, be it Middle Eastern wars, the Black uprising against police abuse at Ferguson, Missouri, 9-11, the 2008 global financial crisis, you name it.
Many of them not only see Ebola as a “sign” but, like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as a welcome sign suggesting the day of the Lord is closer at hand. Perhaps. But their campaign seems well coordinated the overall Republican Party campaign to use the Ebola crisis issue as a last ditch vehicle, a kind of “October Surprise” to push Republican candidates over the top in the upcoming mid-term elections but exaggerating the fear campaign concerning Ebola’s possible spread here in the USA. Don’t be surprised if the campaign loses some of its luster and hysteria after November 4.
The religious right’s grasping on to ebola is reminiscent of a recent idiot cocaine-brain-soaked U.S. president, who, carried away with his air force jump suit, and speaking of the unending war on terrorism he was about to launch, said, “Bring Them On.” So it is with Ebola. Bring it on…it would simply dumb if it weren’t so cruel, actually taking joy in the suffering of others, West Africans in this case. They are such a frightening, seethingly fascist element in our midst, the Christian Right, one that continues to grow and influence our body politic. Imagine, smiling, “rooting on” human suffering because it fits their pathetically narrow framework of the cosmos.
Here are a few case studies:
John Hagee has long called for Washington to attack Iran, Syria, anywhere frankly that might hasten the apocalypse. The spokesperson for the 1.8 million strong Christian’s United For Israel, explained the true causes of the Ebola epidemic for those of less mentally and intellectually endowed and in need, as I have been all my life, of “spiritual guidance.” In case you didn’t know it, Ebola is “God’s punishment for dividing Jerusalem. Read more…
Of the many strands, that woven together, make up one of the world’s greatest rivers, the Congo, there is one which enters the river’s main waters as the great river arches to its most northern latitude. Starting from the southeast regions of what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it first stretches almost due north, its main artery referred to as the Lualaba. A ways beyond Kisangani and Bumba, the main branch, fed by hundreds of tributaries, lurches almost due west, making a gentle west-north-west arch until, past the rapids just after Kinshasa, it tumbles dramatically to the ocean past Goma.
Near the northern most point of the Congo’s flow, a tributary merges in from the north just west of Lisala, the Mongala, a river that flows essentially longitudinally from north to south. Near the head waters of the Mongala, the Ebola, “a tributary of the tributary,” itself a 155 mile river, flows into the Mongala from the northeast adding to its volume and energy. At the point where the Mongala enters the Congo mainstream, the great river is flowing almost due west from the continent’s interior.
The Ebola River gave its name to viral disease which has now reach epidemic proportions in West Africa having, by official statistics already taken the lives of 5000 people. As statistical analysis in Sub-Sahara Africa is far from precise, it is possible that the actual number of victims is quite higher and that frankly, there is no accurate estimate of how widespread the disease has managed to extend its range. According to Pierre Piot, the Flemish (Dutch speaking Belgian) researcher who, in 1976 first identified the disease as a unique new pathogen, quite different from Marburg’s Virus with which it was first confused. Read more…
(note: This also appeared at Foreign Policy In Focus)
Upcoming elections in Tunisia will be the focus of both national and international attention in the coming period. Parliamentary elections on October 26, will be followed by a presidential election on November 23. The election campaign is in full swing at the moment. With these elections, hopefully a period of rocky political transition is coming to a close, but this is far from certain. Unlike the rosy analyses coming out of Washington suggesting that Tunisia is an island in a sea of instability, the actual picture in the North African country remains essentially fragile at best and could, despite the rosy prognoses, collapse. Still, Syria and Iraq might be in shambles, Egypt in the hands of a military dictatorship, Yemen in full political crisis, Libya for all practical purposes essentially (or nearly) in a state of collapse, here in the United States, Tunisia is being showcased as the Arab Spring’s only success story, a somewhat exaggerated sketch..
It would be surprising (to this commentator) if the upcoming election would change the country’s fundamental situation very much if at all. That the political process and that freedom of speech – that hard won victory -continue since Zine Ben Ali’s hurried exit from the scene in January 2011 is accurate enough. But it has otherwise been a rocky road these past years marked by assassination of leading democrats, bizarre (for Tunisia, with its history of tolerance) growth of radical Islamic fundamentalist trends, a decidedly narrow factionalism of the leading Ennahdha Party (which still retains a sizable base in Tunisian society), virtually no progress whatsoever in addressing the socio-economic crisis which triggered the late 2010 uprising in the first place. A dangerous shift to the political right and the growth of extremist Salafist influences has been, for the moment, held in check, although many dangers remain. At different times over this period, it has only been the intervention of massive popular demonstrations which has kicked a lack luster, unimaginative transitional government back onto the path of democracy and genuine reform. Read more…
(Note: It was in October 1964 at the Faculte des Lettres of the University of Rouen that along with some 25 other “junior year abroad” students from St. Lawrence University (Canton, New York), that I stepped into a classroom to listen to Professor Robert Merle lecture, on of all, things, the poetry of Robert Frost. A half century later, I still have the notes from Merle’s lectures and whenever I read Frost, which I do quite frequently, I think of Merle, who opened my eyes and heart to the New England poet, whom it turns out, also spent a year or so as a student at St. Lawrence University.)
By the fall of 1964 Robert Merle was in the full prime of his academic career although, despite having published a number of fascinating fiction works, and having 15 years prior emerged as a national literary figure, he had yet to find his voice as an author. That would come later. A full professor of English and American Literature, associated with the University of Rouen, Merle was already a major French cultural figure, having won the Prix Goncourt in 1949 for Week-end à Zuydcoote, a highly biographical account of the British-French Dunkirk evacuation fiasco, in which Merle was caught up, and taken prisoner by the Nazis. In 1964, the novel was made into a film starring French mega-star Jean-Paul Belmondo a kind of French Steve McQueen…or was it that McQueen was an American Belmondo? Read more…