Ebola, Mountaintop Removal, Cuba

Private Profit Trumps Public Health in Research for Ebola Vaccine

MP3 Interview with Leigh Phillips, science writer and European Affairs reporter, conducted by Scott Harris

ebolaAs the death toll from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa tops 4,500 including 236 health workers, the World Health Organization admitted that it failed to organize an effective response to the deadly virus. The international agency blamed factors ranging from internal politics to poor communication between infectious disease experts and officials at its U.N. headquarters. The WHO has projected that by Dec. 1, the number of new Ebola cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone would be 5,000 to 10,000 per week, making the 2014 outbreak of the disease the largest in world history.

In the U.S., President Barack Obama appointed a White House czar to organize the nation’s Ebola preparedness, as the spread of the disease has thus far been limited two nurses that treated Thomas Duncan who died of the virus in a Dallas hospital on Oct. 8. In advance of the U.S. mid-term elections on Nov. 4, a number of U.S. politicians have called for a ban on travel to and from the three West African nations where the Ebola outbreak is centered, this despite warnings from public health experts who warn that such restrictions would hamper efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

One important question about the international response to Ebola has largely been unaddressed: Why is it that the world doesn’t yet have an Ebola vaccine, despite the fact that this virus has been known to science since its emergence in South Sudan in 1976? Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Leigh Phillips, a widely published science writer, who examined this question in his article titled, “The Political Economy of Ebola,” where he discusses the incompatibility between public health and private profit.

Read Leigh Phillips’ article at “The Political Economy of Ebola,” Jacobin, Aug. 13, 2014.

Related Links:

  • “Ebolanomics,” New York, Aug. 25, 2014
  • “Ebola: between public health and private profit,” Open Democracy, Aug. 11, 2014
  • “UN Health Agency Admits Mistakes, While US Ramps Up Ebola Response,” Common Dreams, Oct. 17, 2014
  • “2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa,” CDC, Oct. 20, 2014
  • “Could Ebola rank among the deadliest communicable diseases?” CBC, Oct. 20, 2014
  • “Ebola death toll rises to 4,546 in hardest-hit countries: WHO,” Reuters, Oct. 17, 2014

    New Study Links Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Dust to Lung Cancer

    MP3 Interview with Vernon Haltom, director of Coal River Mountain Watch, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

    mtrThere’s lots of news from southern Appalachia on the fight against mountaintop removal coal mining. On Oct. 1, federal judge Amy Jackson Berman upheld the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency – the EPA – to withdraw a previously issued mountaintop removal mining permit for Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine, because the company’s operations violated the Clean Water Act.

    Then a report from the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed elevated levels of mountaintop removal airborne toxic dust in mining communities. The report found that the dust comes from mountaintop removal operations and not from other sources. Residents living in these areas have higher rates of several serious illnesses associated with this type of dust exposure. Also, on Oct. 9, a lab technician who is certified by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, recently admitted to falsifying reports for coal companies’ water quality tests. A federal investigation is ongoing.

    Despite gathering evidence about the environmental harm and danger to human health caused by mountaintop removal mining, West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection has given out 25 new mining permits over the last two years as companies attempt to work around Clean Water Act restrictions. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Vernon Haltom, director of Coal River Mountain Watch in West Virginia, who discusses some of these recent developments which bolster the case against mountaintop removal mining.

    VERNON HALTOM: Last week, the U.S. Geological Survey released a new report – the first one from a U.S.government agency – identifying MTR dust in communities at elevated levels, and it’s the kind of dust known to cause lung and heart problems. And just yesterday, we found out there’s another new study from mostly folks at West Virginia University School of Public Health regarding MTR dust and a direct link to human lung cancer. The dots are connected so strongly. This is the first one that makes that direct connection as showing cause rather than just correlation. It’s big news; it’s kind of depressing because now we have this lab experiment that shows that yes, what we’ve been breathing does promote lung cancer, and that’s unsettling.

    BETWEEN THE LINES: Showing causation rather than just correlation is really important. But you had indications before about the health impacts of MTR, right?

    VERNON HALTOM: That’s right; we’ve had statistical evidence that even after accounting for factors like socio-economic status and things like that, the cancer rates, heart disease rates, birth defect rates and other things – mortality, depression – all those things are higher in MTR areas, and that’s after taking into account those other factors. This is the first one that actually links the MTR dust to cancer. I consider it a landmark study, and one of the scientists, Dr. Michael Hendryx, says it’s one of the most important ones so far.

    What are we going to do about it? The report calls for “prudent adoption of prevention strategies and exposure control.” So we’re thinking what kind of prevention strategies and exposure control can we do? I mean, can we live in a bubble? Do we have to evacuate? Do we all get respirators? Or, do we fight it? Do we end it? And we have a way of doing that – the ACHE Act, the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act. ACHE Act, HR 526, is the way we see would be a good and swift end to MTR and protect human health. It would place a moratorium on new or enlarged MTR sites, unless and until the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducts and publishes a thorough, definitive study showing that this does not harm our health. The way that it would work is the moratorium would go in place immediately. And then if the study shows there’s no evidence that it harms human health, then they could go about getting permits again. In the meantime, we would have that pause, and we see it as an example of the precautionary principle: you know, you don’t do something to people unless you know it’s relatively safe.

    BETWEEN THE LINES: There was another development recently that made a pretty big splash. A judge ruled that the EPA – the Environmental Protection Agency – could revoke a permit it previously granted to the Spruce Number 1 MTR site because the company was violating the Clean Water Act. I know the coal industry and a lot of politicians in Coal Country thought that was pretty outrageous.

    VERNON HALTOM: The EPA, when they see that something is violating the law, they can withdraw a permit. There’s a lot of hoopla about this particular site, and even friends of mine thought that MTR was banned, or that the EPA had ended any new MTR permits, and that’s nowhere near the case. Even at Spruce #1, there’s still a large portion of that that is still being mined as of this day. That particular case only protected a couple of streams. The latest court victory saying the EPA does have the right to retroactively veto an MTR permit, is important, it’s significant, but it’s not the end of MTR. And the EPA has shown no indication that they’re going to veto any other permits.

    Find more information on Coal River Mountain Watch in West Virginia at crmw.net.

    Related Links:

Old And In The Fray: Mac Wiseman, Falls and Mae Trio

One can debate about how old is “old” or whether it’s appropriate to say somebody is old even if they definitely are. But let’s be clear. Mac Wiseman is old. Eighty nine years old. Older than the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam and even five months older than the Grand Ole Opry, which enthralled and inspired him growing up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia during the Depression.

What I won’t tolerate is the association of “old” with irrelevant or square or disposable, in life or in music. The voice of Mac Wiseman today, which we hear with breathy intimacy and focus on his new album Songs From My Mother’s Hand, is a history lesson, a psalm, a window on ourselves and an ennobling meditation on America. If a novelist named an octogenarian folk troubadour “wise man” in a book we’d snigger at his obtuseness. Yet this Wiseman’s very real name carries very real freight and insight. We need to listen to Mac Wiseman – to tune our compasses. So it with great pleasure and pride that I share with you the prospect of country/bluegrass icon Mac Wiseman on our stage.

The bill will pair Wiseman (opening the show) with our annual slate of artists from Australia, curated by our friend Dobe Newton of the Bushwackers. These folk, country and roots pop performers have been playing and networking their way through Nashville as part of the Americana music conference. More on them shortly.

Wiseman is in the spotlight just now for two big reasons. First, he has at long last been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His career included singing for several years with the first version of Flatt & Scruggs, decades of popular recordings and live performances and a role in the founding of the Country Music Association. So the honor seems overdue. And second, the new album is a warm, glowing wonder. Friend of the show Peter Cooper produced, pulling in a top-flight acoustic band that could take the pre-bluegrass songs to the right emotional place. And as all great albums should, it tells a story. The literal title of the CD is about a stack of notebooks in which Mac’s mother wrote down lyrics to cherished songs as she heard them on the radio in the 1930s. The books were bequeathed to Mac, and he’s now mined them for songs that call through time, such as the poignant “Little Rosewood Casket,” the zesty “Old Rattler” and the classic gospel number “Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown.”

Peter was celebrating and championing Mac’s music before they became collaborators. In a 2011 profile in The Tennessean he wrote: “Across all styles and genres of music that are sung, Wiseman believes the melody belongs to the voice. A child of the fields, Wiseman’s voice isn’t a field holler. He enunciates. He is mannered and kindly. He does not assert; he conveys. His is, as a radio disc jockey asserted long ago, ‘the voice with a heart.’”

As for the Aussies, you’ll find them fun and surprising. I got to see three out of four of this week’s lineup at the annual Aussie Lunch on Day 2 of American Fest. If The Mae Trio doesn’t charm and delight you, you may have to check your vital signs. Three women wield banjo, ukulele, fiddle, guitar, cello (not all at the same time) all while singing crystalline harmonies. The Melbourne based groups earned the 2013 Folk Alliance Youth Award at that agenda-shaping conference, and that’s just one of many accolades that have chased this engaging band around. Embracing a new folk approach that builds on tradition, they’ve cited Crooked Still and the Wailin’ Jennys as kindred spirits.

Brooke Russell and the Mean Reds love classic country and traditional jazz, and they say to expect “songs about boozy nights, bad decisions, broken hearts and the best intentions.” I very much enjoyed their red-headed lead singer and their single “California,” which had overtones of the sunny side of Gram Parsons and Buffalo Springfield.

Falls is a duo from Sydney featuring Melinda Kirwin and Simon Rudston-Brown that makes stompy uplifting and romantic folk pop. At their lunchtime set, Kirwin proved her down home bona fides when she explained that as a child of the bush (near Darwin) she just couldn’t handle performing in shoes. So she removed her fashionable footwear and took the whole set one nice notch toward the country. The band’s press says they’ve toured with The Lumineers and Delta Rae. Plus they’ve launched an American EP and played South By Southwest. Rounding out the bill will be Kevin Bennett of popular Aussie country rock band The Flood. His own official bio says that he “crawled from the Namoi swampland deep in the Pilliga scrub, just north of nowhere in particular,” so that suggests some interesting lines of questions.

Music City Roots established a great relationship with Australia by staging the show at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in 2013. Our friend Dobe has a history of sending us fascinating, talented, innovative stars and rising stars from the Down Under music scene. That plus the golden throat of Mac Wiseman should make for a delightful season closing show.

Craig H.

Mama’s Black Sheep and Jamie Anderson

Mama’s Black Sheep and Jamie Anderson will perform live in KKFI’s on-air studio on WomanSong.

Mama’s Black Sheep is the musical collaboration of singer-songwriters Ashland Miller (guitar/vocals) and Laura Cerulli (drums/vocals). Touring together since 2008 and both veterans of the singer-songwriter circuit, Miller & Cerulli will make you feel like you’ve been listening to their music for years. Driven by Miller’s versatile guitar grooves, Cerulli’s innovative percussion, and two voices that blend like honey and whiskey, Mama’s Black Sheep create acoustic rock & blues with a style that is distinctly their own
Together Miller and Cerulli create a unique tapestry of songs, weaving vibrant color and rich texture to create a dynamic conversation between guitar and percussion. Miller’s passionate voice will make you laugh, cry, feel inspired, and ultimately want more. And Bob Steel of Baltimore Out Loud writes “Cerulli opens her mouth and the world stands still as she wrings every drop of emotion out of the lyrics with her powerful, soaring voice, forged in the fire of the blues and tempered in the cool technique of her classical training.” Be sure to catch this duo somewhere…anywhere. You won’t be disappointed.

Singer-songwriter-parking lot attendant Jamie Anderson has played her unique original songs in hundreds of venues in four countries, including forty-seven U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. She’s folk without the Birkenstocks, country without the big hair, pop without the meat dress, and jazz without the weird chords. Her ten recordings include the 2013 release Dare. Jamie’s music has been featured on Good Morning America, the Dr. Demento radio show, NPR’s Car Talk, and stations all over the world. She loves being a musician, so she doesn’t really park cars, but her mama said she should have something to fall back on.

Elections: Hot Races in Kansas and Missouri

There are lots of hot election races in Kansas this year and a few even in Missouri. This week on the Heartland Labor Forum, we’ll talk to some insiders: Courtney Cole for Missouri and Mary O’Halloran for Kansas. Tune in at 6PM Thursday, rebroadcast Friday at 5AM.

Elections: Hot Races in Kansas and Missouri

There are lots of hot election races in Kansas this year and a few even in Missouri. This week on the Heartland Labor Forum, we’ll talk to some insiders: Courtney Cole for Missouri and Mary O’Halloran for Kansas. Tune in at 6PM Thursday, rebroadcast Friday at 5AM.

“Rails Risky Business” with Mike Hendricks

Mike Hendricks has been a columnist and reporter for the Kansas City Star for nearly 30 years, covering business and agriculture. He will update his extensive reporting on the dangers of lightly regulated railroad traffic through Kansas City, potentially exposing adjacent neighborhoods to toxic chemicals.