Friday, October 24, 2014

The Racist/Capitalist Truth Behind the Ebola Crisis

 Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya: Lessons for Africa in the Forging of African Unity, Monthly Review Press, New York, 2013.

Source: TeleSUR English

As the Ebola outbreak rages, and there are projections of more than 1.4 million persons infected in the next few months, the African Union and ECOWAS has taken a back seat as the international media uses this virus to stigmatize Africa and Africans. Pious statements have been made by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the World Bank warns that Ebola could have “catastrophic” economic costs on the region of Western Africa. This same World Bank has not yet accepted any reasonability for its role in promoting neo-liberal politics that degraded the health care facilities of Africa. 

This degradation will be called in this statement, economic warfare. Bioeconomic warfare is the combination of economic warfare and biological warfare. In the midst of this tragedy, Britain, France and the United States use the deaths of thousands to remilitarize West Africa. 

Characteristically, this militaristic intervention with the division of the three societies between USA (Liberia) France (Guinea) and the United Kingdom (Sierra Leone) ensures that the media attention is placed on the military deployments of the western states and not on measures for public education.

The kind of international response that will be needed for countering bioeconomic warfare requires a different kind of public education and mobilization than what the African Union and ECOWAS has so far called for. Liberia, Sierra Leona and Guinea are the societies that are at the epicenter of the outbreak of (Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) that some writers have said has spun out of control. (i) These three territories are members of the Economic Community for West Africa (ECOWAS). ECOWAS is one of the five regional organizations that make up the African Union (AU). Six months after it was clear that this epidemic was widespread, in August 2014, there was a meeting of ECOWAS held in Ghana to address the outbreak. In this meeting, it was stressed that the best approach to curbing the spread of and bringing the disease under control remains effective quarantine, isolation and public education. 

There is no indication that either the AU or ECOWAS is working at their maximum effort to bring this disease under control. In the same month of August, the Director General of the World Health Organization stated that, the outbreak is “the largest and most severe and most complex that we’ve ever seen in the nearly 40-year history of this disease.”

One of the priorities of public education is for citizens to have a fuller understanding of the source or sources of Ebola and the kind of responses that can bring this pandemic under control. Citizens need to understand everywhere that Ebola is not particularly contagious. There should be the clarification that there is no cure for Ebola. All of the therapies and vaccines being used so far are experimental. 

The simple requirements of control are robust public health infrastructures, clean water facilities with sanitation and a clean environment. In short, Ebola can only be contained with robust health facilities. The very same institutions and organizations that have been at the forefront of bioeconomic warfare in Africa cannot lead the mobilization against Ebola. 

This mobilization requires nonmilitary, civilian medical leadership. Ebola presents one more challenge for a new kind of leadership in Africa that can value the lives of the producers.

Ebola: Where did it come from?

From the varying press reports this current strain of Ebola broke out in Guinea at the end of 2013 and was brought to international attention by the time it had spread across West Africa by March 2013. The symptoms of Ebola haemorrhagic fever begin 4 to 16 days after infection. Persons develop fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, and loss of appetite. As the disease progresses, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, sore throat and chest pain can occur. The blood clot and the patient may bleed from injection sites as well as into the gastrointestinal tract, skin and internal organs. The mortality rate is usually very high. 

This virus is not spread through the air via coughs or sneezes like the common cold. It is spread through frequent contact with bodily fluids and can be spread only by someone who is showing symptoms.

It should be stated from the outset that Ebola is not one of those illnesses which is known to the majority of healers and doctors in Africa. Scientific journals of all continents attest to the profound ignorance about this virus. Fifteen years ago the internationally respected International Journal of Infectious Diseases stated that “Filoviridae is the only known virus family about which we have such profound ignorance.” (ii) What accounts for this profound ignorance on the part of the top researchers in the West?

Inside Africa, the most experienced, the traditional healers have no experience in dealing with this illness. The reports in the mainstream media place the first outbreak of Ebola in Africa in 1976. This virus was named for a river in Zaire, Africa, where Ebola was allegedly first detected.” Then, according to information released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta,” Ebola is a member of a family of RNA viruses known as filoviruses. When magnified several thousand times by electron microscope, these viruses have the appearance of long filaments of threads. Although the CDC places the first outbreak of Ebola in Zaire in 1976, the leading scientific journals such the Lancet and the New EnglanJournal of Medicine placed the first outbreak in Marburg Germany.

One of the most profound requirements of public education is to diminish the racialization of Ebola to clarify that the first recognized outbreak took place not in Africa, but in Marburg Germany, hence the name given to Ebola as Marburg Virus. In 1967 an outbreak of haemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany.

Thirty-one people became ill, initially laboratory workers followed by several medical personnel and family members who had cared for them. Seven deaths were reported.

The Evolution of Ebola

According to the CDC, the first Outbreak of Ebola was in 1976 in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo). In their website, the CDC stated the first Outbreak of Ebola, “occurred in Yambuku and surrounding area. Disease was spread by close personal contact and by use of contaminated needles and syringes in hospitals/clinics. This outbreak was the first recognition of the disease. (iii) Why is it necessary for the CDC to place the evolution of disease in Africa? (iv) The website of the CDC differs from the Journal of Infectious Diseases that stated, “Biomedical science first encountered the virus family Filoviridae when Marburg virus appeared in1967.”

The reporting on the number of deaths in the Zaire outbreak differs according to differing sources. One fact is indisputable. This was the largest number of deaths at that time in 1976. There were 550 cases and 340 deaths.

In the third outbreak in 1979, in Sudan, there were 34 cases and 22 fatalities.

The fourth outbreak of Ebola was in Reston Virginia in the United States. The strain of Ebola Reston is so called because of an outbreak which occurred in Reston, Virginia in late 1989. Very few following the present outbreak of Ebola know that there was an outbreak of Ebola in the Washington Suburb of Reston, Virginia in 1989 less than 20 miles from the United States Capitol. There were two other small incidents of the Reston outbreak after 1989.

The Kitwit Outbreak
Six years after the first Reston Outbreak there was a major outbreak of Ebola at Kitwit in Zaire. There were over 200 fatalities. Up to then, the Kitwit Ebola outbreak had been the deadliest. The outbreaks are usually controlled when appropriate medical supplies and equipment were made available and quarantine procedures were used.
Since those days there have been periodic outbreaks in Uganda, Angola, Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and other parts of Africa, but nothing compared to the scale and depth of the present pandemic in West Africa.

In the most popular book on this virus published over twenty years ago by Richard Preston, The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus(v) readers are exposed to the twenty years of research by the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRID) on a family of viruses that are lethal. This book came out before the Kitwit Outbreak but we know from press reports that the USAMRID, the CDC, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other international research organizations used the Kitwit outbreak to study this virus. 

The book concentrated on the three ways which the scientific community attempts to deal with a virus, vaccines, drugs and bio containment. This book by Preston came out in a moment when the tabloid press was making great claims about the airborne possibilities of Ebola and was whipping up anti-African hysteria.

It was in the same period when Robert Kaplan had written his celebrated article, “The Coming Anarchy. “ It was this sensationalism that set the tone about the so called failed and fragile states in Africa. Robert Kaplan wrote extensively on how scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism, and disease were rapidly destroying the social fabric of our African societies. (vi) Kaplan’s work was part of the psychological warfare against Africa and Africans at the moment when the peoples of world were celebrating the victory over apartheid.

USAMRID -The US Military and Biological warfare research- one arm of bioeconomic warfare

The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland is supposed to be the frontline research institution for the USA in its bioshield preparations, which is the preparedness of the US government to fight against biological threats. President Richard Nixon had ended the offensive biological warfare program of the USA with his “Statement on Chemical and Biological Defense Policies and Programs” on November 25, 1969 in a speech from Fort Detrick. The statement was supposed to put an end, unconditionally, to all U.S. offensive biological weapons programs. 

The United Nations Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction was signed in 1972. Even after the signing of this International Convention a number of countries including the USA continued research on designer viruses.

Although the United Nations Convention on Biological Warfare and the stockpiling of Toxin agents was passed in 1972, the explosion of scientific research on genetically modified organisms gave a boost to the research being carried out by both military and civilian agencies that were chasing profits from developing dual use pathogens. Biological agents that were being experimented with as bioweapons accelerated and the one bioweapon from this school of dual use pathogens that has come to light has been the experimentation on anthrax.

Characteristically, the use of anthrax on civilians by the military was in the case of the racist Rhodesian military who unleashed anthrax spores in feed cakes for animals killing over 80 Africans in what was then Rhodesia. Years later Dir. Timothy Stamps, the Minister of Health in Zimbabwe, drew a connection between the anthrax outbreak in Rhodesia, the Ebola outbreaks and the experimentation that had been carried out under South Africa’s Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW) program.

This South African apartheid (CBW) program has now received international notoriety through Project Coast where the apartheid regime was experimenting with biological agents that could be specifically targeted at Africans. The government of the United States has gone to great lengths to distance itself from the experimentation of Project Coast even though at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC of South Africa), Dr. Wouter Basson testified how he was warmly embraced by US intelligence elements. The full implication of the work of Wouter Basson and Daan Goosen is still to come to light. (vii)

The attractiveness of the weaponization of biological agents increased in the era of genetically modified organisms. Because Africa was the space of the most diverse genetic materials, scientists and bio anthropologists from the West traversed the rural countryside in Africa looking for plants with unique characteristics. In the era of massive research in the Life Sciences, many Universities became involved in dual use research.

Dual use research

Dual use research (DURC) is life sciences research that, based on current understanding, can be reasonably anticipated to provide knowledge, information, products, or technologies that could be directly misused to pose a significant threat with broad consequences to public health and safety, agricultural crops and other plants, animals, the environment, or national security. In short dual use research was research that could be used to assist in advancing human health and security or at the same time used for biological warfare.

We have learnt from research carried out by UNESCO that “military interest, in harnessing genetic engineering and DNA recombinant technology for updating and devising effective lethal bioweapons is spurred on by the easy availability of funding, even in times of economic regression, for contractual research leading to the development of bioweapons.” (viii)

This is the research environment to grasp the present outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
On the day before President Barack Obama spoke to the world on the Ebola Pandemic, the White House on Wednesday September 24, 2014 issued new guidelines intended to strengthen the oversight of federally funded biology research that could inadvertently produce bioweapons. According to the report in the New York Times carried on Thursday September 25, “The new policy shifts the burden of finding and disclosing the dangerous aspects of research from the funding agency — usually the National Institutes of Health — to the scientists who receive the grants and the universities or other institutions where they work.” 

On the same day, the National Public Radio (NPR) was more specific that the ruling related to dual use pathogens and research being carried in government funded laboratories. This report came three years after the controversies about bird flu research that was being carried out for bioterror purposes. In 2011, there had been a fierce debate in the media about the use of biological research for terror, in short bioterrorism. Then as NPR reported, “Scientists and security specialists are in the midst of a fierce debate over recent experiments on a strain of bird flu virus that made it more contagious weapons. 

In September of 2011 at a scientific conference in Malta, one scientist made a stunning announcement at a flu conference “he’d done a lab experiment that resulted in bird flu virus becoming highly contagious between ferrets — the animal model used to study human flu infection. It seemed that just five mutations did the trick.” This report on NPR in November 2011 did not reappear but in the same broadcast one noted bioterrorism expert and director of the Center for Biosecurity at a national University stated that, “It’s just a bad idea for scientists to turn a lethal virus into a lethal and highly contagious virus. And it’s a second bad idea for them to publish how they did it so others can copy it.”

So far no expert or whistle-blower has come forward to speak openly about experimentation with viral haemorrhagic fevers which are now lumped under the name of Ebola. Today as a vital component of prevention and public education there is the need for scientists and researchers to speak out about the laboratories in the West or elsewhere that have been experimenting with dual use pathogens. It is also necessary for the international community to know whether any of these research teams or University personnel associated with dual use pathogens has been active in the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea or Nigeria before the present outbreak of Ebola. At the minimum, ECOWAS and the African Union should pressure the UN Ebola Fund to focus not only on fund raising but to also make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to fully develop the measures to properly organize against outbreaks of the current type.

From the reports coming in on the numbers of people who have been left to die without attention or decent burial, the figures on the number of deaths in West Africa from theWorld Health Organization (WHO) have been a clear undercount to minimize the extent of the devastation being created by Ebola. In contrast to the numbers being broadcast by WHO, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported on Tuesday September 23 that “Ebola cases could increase to between 550,000 and 1.4 million in four months, based on several factors including how many people are infected by Ebola carriers. 

The report questioned whether the official number of deaths recorded by WHO, 2,800 out of at least 5,800 Ebola cases, has been underreported. CDC has said it is likely that 2.5 times as many cases, or nearly 20,000, have occurred so far.” (ix) On the same Tuesday that the CDC issued its dire warning of the prospect of 1.4 million persons dying, the New England Journal of Medicine also weighed in and stated that in an article entitles, “Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa —The First 9 Months of the Epidemic and Forward Projections,” “if the disease isn’t adequately contained, it could become endemic among the populations in countries hardest hit by the outbreak — Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. …. “Without drastic improvements in control measures,” researchers say, “the numbers and cases and deaths from [Ebola] are expected to continue increasing from hundreds to thousands per week in coming months.” (x)

According to the WHO, “Extensive, immediate actions – such as those already started – can bring the epidemic to… a rapid decline in cases.”

Beyond the Militarization of the response to Ebola
The extensive and immediate action referred to by the World Health Organization refers to the deployment of military forces by the United States, Britain and France to the countries most affected. The United States has deployed over 4,000 military personnel to West Africa to assist in the fight against Ebola. The fight against Ebola cannot be a military effort. It must be an effort that is based on seeking to bring back the health and safety of the peoples whose communities have been destroyed with hundreds of families losing loved ones. 

The United States plans to quickly increase its presence in Liberia, where military personnel are deploying to help the people halt the advance of the worst Ebola epidemic on record but we also need to know what the private security contractors have been doing in Liberia over the past ten years. President Obama has stated that the military is required to set up the medical and transportation infrastructure needed to deploy health workers. Why could this infrastructure work not be carried out by civilian agencies?

From India, Dir. Sreeram Chaulia noted correctly in an article entitled Foreign Pulse: Viral Politics, that “As the Ebola epidemic ravages West Africa, a familiar act with troublesome connotations is playing out. The international response to the conjoined public health crises in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea is following imperial patterns of tutelage and patronage, wherein each of these three countries has been exclusively taken over by its respective former master from America and Europe through targeted humanitarian aid…….An erstwhile colony established by American citizens freed from slavery, Liberia is back to being literally a ward of the US, which faces no competition from any other Western donor there. Washington is deploying up to 4,000 military personnel to set up hospitals, medical laboratories and treatment centres on a war footing. This mission, codenamed “Operation United Assistance”, is being overseen by the controversial US Africa Command (AFRICOM).” (xi)

In a context where the international news media is dominated by the western news agencies, ECOWAS has also called for military mobilization to respond to EBOLA. In the opinion of this author, ECOWAS and the African Union has dropped the ball because the militarization of the international response will make it difficult for countries such as China, Cuba, India, South Korea and other societies to properly harmonize the medical response to this Ebola outbreak. The African Union and ECOWAS need a new kind of medical diplomacy which is rooted in the valuation of black bodies. 

Chaulia noted that “if the US, UK and France were driven by humanitarian motives, why did they not contribute to the multilateral UN Ebola response fund that would have distributed the funds more equitably among the three worst-hit West African countries? Thus far, only India and Australia have made sizeable donations of $10 million each to the UN Ebola fund that is woefully 

Project 112
In North America, the Fox news Organization and its affiliates have been at the forefront of the racialization of the present outbreak of Ebola. When the Liberian national was hospitalized and later succumbed to Ebola, the conservative media whipped up an unprecedented hysteria about the possibilities of an Ebola outbreak in the United States. (This patient, Thomas Eric Duncan has since passed away). Within this hysteria, there are questions in the media whether this virus could go airborne. 

Some readers will remember that the possibility of the airborne transmission of Ebola was the theme of the Film Outbreak that was produced by Hollywood. What has not been in the public domain was the fact that it was the US government that from 1962 to 1973 carried out a biological and chemical weapon experimentation project called Project 112.

This was specifically conducted so that those who were being experimented with did not know that they were guinea pigs. In 2000 when US Television Network CBS made known the existence of this biological warfare program, it was also revealed that apart from testing on individuals in the USA there were tests carried out in countries where “The US Department of Defense (DoD) conducted testing of agents in other countries that were considered too unethical to perform within the continental United States.”

Project Bioshield
We are yet to know which African societies were considered ripe for the testing of toxins by the US Department of Defense. After the anthrax scare in the USA in 2001 and the war against the people of Iraq in 2003, the US Congress passed the Project Bioshield Act in 2004 calling for U.S. $5 billion for purchasing vaccines that would be used in the event of a bioterrorist attack. There has been a ten year program to put money into the same forces that were experimenting with dual use pathogens. In the words of the Congress Project Bio shield was a ten-year program to acquire medical countermeasures to biological, chemical, radiological, and nuclear agents for civilian use. The US government has been working on countermeasures against biological warfare. Is it by accident that the top three threats that the Bioshield program is meant to defend the citizens of the US from are Anthrax, Ebola and Bird Flu?

Africa and bioterrorism
Africans have faced bioterrorism from the time of colonialism and apartheid and this is well documented in the book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, Harriet Washington went into great details about the bioterrorism against black people. The Tuskegee experiment is now the most well-known case of using black bodies as guinea pigs for medical experimentation. The book on Hela Cells (Henrietta Lacks) is another devastating account of the use of black bodies. (xii)
Harriet Washington placed chemical and biological warfare under the larger category of “bioterrorism,” which “employs chemical or biological agents such as microbes and poisons in the service of terrorism…weapons often consist of disease-causing organisms, usually microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or derivatives from humans, animals or plants.” (xiii) Another important aspect of biological warfare that Harriet Washington brings forth is the fact that it can be both direct and indirect when used against populations. In other words, chemical agents can be used to kill people directly by physically harming them with something such as nerve gas, or biological warfare can be used to pollute the environment in which someone lives in order to cut off their source of food (plants, livestock), water, or both.

Cuba is one society outside of Africa that has been forced to develop the medical and biosafety capabilities after the outbreak of Dengue fever in 1977. We now know from the new book, Back Channel to Cuba, that Henry Kissinger had organized a plan to ‘smash’ Cuba. (xiv) This was because Kissinger was angry about the Cuban intervention in Angola in 1975-1976 to beat back the racist South African Incursion into Angola. Henry Kissinger who had overseen the authorship of the National Security Memorandum 39 of 1969 which predicted that whites were destined to stay and rule in Southern Africa was upset that a small island committed to an alternative mode of economic organization could ruin his plans for Africa. It was reported in the recent New York Times article that in the discussions between Henry Kissinger (then Secretary of State) and President Gerald Ford, Mr. Kissinger used “language about doing harm to Cuba that is pretty quintessentially aggressive.” (xv)

The Cubans have exposed that the experiences of Dengue fever which broke out in Cuba in 1977 was linked to biological warfare by the US government. This has been corroborated by press reports from the United States based media organizations. At that time the United States government blocked efforts by the Cuban government to purchase fumigators and chemicals to control the dengue spread.

As a small island, Cuba has been able to develop quarantine measures but more importantly develop the scientific capacity to research the root of outbreaks such as Dengue.

The African Union and ECOWAS must take the lead to respond to this lethal virus

In August the President of the USA called the First US Africa Summit in Washington. Although the Ebola pandemic was already killing more persons than the four episodes discussed in the website of the CDC, the White House was not focused on the devastation that was being wrought on West Africa. In Africa, Ebola has exposed the porousness of the so called borders. 

The African Union has so far failed to take the lead in mobilizing to fight this pandemic. Does the African Union have in place any kind of bioshield preparation? 

At the time of the outbreak of the HIV AIDS pandemic it was significant that western pharmaceuticals placed their profits before human lives. It took the massive organizing of a grassroots movement such as the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) of South Africa to pressure the pharmaceuticals to allow for the production of generic drugs to treat AIDS patients in Africa. This TAC campaign influenced the cooperation between India, Brazil and South Africa which later merged into BRICS.

The African Union and the African Union must be pushed to act more decisively
A similar grassroots mobilization is now needed in West Africa to break the slow and lackadaisical response of ECOWAS and the AU. ECOWAS has been able in the past to intervene in Liberia and Sierra Leone to bring peace. Collectively, ECOWAS and the AU possess the technical and medical capabilities to be more vigorous in response to Ebola. There is the mistaken perception abroad that Africa does not have the medical personnel to fight this epidemic. However, the ability to mobilize the resources in Africa for a more robust response depends on political will. Nigeria alone has over 40,000 doctors with thousands having experience in infectious diseases. In the economic warfare against Africa the medical profession of Africa was assaulted and there was a massive brain drain of African medical personnel to Europe and North America. 

African governments have been very clear about their objections to the wholesale migration of their physicians to rich countries. Despite these objections there are more than 10,000 international medical graduates from Africa in the USA and Western Europe. The US received more than 7,000 doctors from three countries: Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. Progressive Africans will have to mobilize for a change of course so that the AU and the United Nations can demilitarize the response to Ebola.

Already it has been demonstrated in Liberia that the pandemic can be contained. 

Nigeria and Senegal have been able to contain the virus. The western media has drawn attention the fact that Firestone Company in Liberia was able to contain and control the virus on its rubber plantation. (xvi) This author is no fan of Firestone. At the recent Empowered Africa Dialogue in Washington during August, workers at Firestone spoke of the low wage and exploitative working conditions on the rubber plantation. Thus this company cannot be held up as an example, but the important point is that Ebola can be controlled and there was no need for the pandemic to spin out of control. The Firestone story also demonstrates that the military is not needed to organize the medical and transport infrastructure to contain the escalation of the deaths.

This author has been critical of saviours from outside but this Ebola pandemic provides an opportunity for the true humanitarian doctors to separate themselves from the militarized response to the Ebola outbreak. The African Union must take the lead so that those medical responders can find a non-military infrastructure to work with. 

There is the need for full scale mobilization in all of the countries where health workers, traditional doctors, scientists, civilian agencies and the military will be crucial in the fight against bio-economic warfare. Global health experts have declared the Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa an international health emergency that requires a coordinated global approach.

Although the media has racialized the Ebola pandemic, there is urgent need for the international community to come together for this coordinated global approach. The Ebola virus presented a real challenge to Africa and the deployment of scientists, community health workers, volunteers and health brigades to combat this virus is one of the most important tasks of reconstruction in Africa.


i 1. Evan Horowitz, “How the Ebola Virus Spun Out of Control,” Boston Globe, October 8, 2014.
ii 2. C. J. Peters, J. W. LeDuc, “An Introduction to Ebola: The Virus and the Disease,” The Journal of Infectious Diseases, Vol. 179, Supplement 1. Ebola: The Virus and the Disease (Feb., 1999), pp. ix-xvi
iii Outbreaks Chronology: Ebola Virus Disease, CDC, Known Cases and Outbreaks of Ebola Virus Disease, in Chronological Order:
iv See Centers for Disease Control, “Known Cases and Outbreaks of Ebola Virus Disease, in Chronological Order:”
v Richard Preston, The HotZone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus,” Anchor books, 1995.
vi Robert Kaplan, “The Coming Anarchy,” The Atlantic, February, 1994
vii Helen E. Pruitt, Stephen F. Burgess: South Africa’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. Indiana University Press, Bloomington 2005
viii Edgar J. DaSilva,” Biological warfare, bioterrorism, biodefence and the biological and toxin weapons convention,” Electronic Journal of Biotechnology,Volume 2, No 3, December 1999. See also Wright, S. (1985). “The military and the new biology. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 41:10-16.
ix “Estimating the Future Number of Cases in the Ebola Epidemic—Liberia and Sierra Leone, 2014–2015,”
x Bruce et al, B. p.-M. “Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa —The First 9 Months of the Epidemic and Forward Projections.” The New England Journal of Medicine. 2014.
xi Sreeram Chaulia, “Viral Politics, Foreign Pulse, October 8, 2014.”
xii Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Broadway Books, New York 2011
xiii Harriet Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, Anchor Books, New York 2008 page 365
xiv William M. Leo Grande and Peter Kornbluh, Back Channel to Cuba, University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2014.
xv Frances Robles, “Kissinger Drew Up Plans to Attack Cuba, Records Show,” New York Times, September 30, 2014
xvi National Public Radio, “Firestone Did What Governments Have Not: Stopped Ebola In Its Tracks.”

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A 2009 HIPHOP reminder from Wise Intelligent

Wise Intelligent Drops Some Serious Science On the DePoliticization of HipHop

This was recorded at the Influence of Islam on HipHop Gathering back in 2009.

It is still very much on point today. Share with youngfolk and the not-so-youngfolk among your family, friends and neighborhood.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Native American Holocaust Remembrance Day- NOT Columbus Day

From the official site of William Loren Katz and Black Indians:

Ill Winds Drove Columbus

Columbus’s Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria were driven across the Atlantic by the same ill winds that from 1095 to 1272 launched nine Crusades to capture Muslim Jerusalem. Defeated and humiliated the invaders suffered staggering human losses, left royal treasuries depleted, and convinced Christian leaders to do pay lip service to another try.

Except for Christopher Colon or Columbus. An ambitious Genoese sailor who craved adventure and was given to religious mysticism, he accepted God’s personal command to free the Holy Land. He also saw God’s hand in cloud formations, splashing waves, and distant stars, and had read a religious book that convinced him the world would end in 150 years. As a seaman he saw three mermaids dancing on waves, and was sure in distant lands he would meet men with tails or heads of dogs.

Above all, God had chosen him to see Christianity victorious “throughout the universe.” And he would follow His further command to convert or destroy Muslims, Jews and other non-believers.
Columbus’s earliest sea experiences were as a youth on Portuguese slave-trading ships along Africa’s Atlantic coast. He learned captured men, women and children could be chained and sold for enormous profits. With enough slaves and gold, a Columbus could finally end the infidel grip on the Holy Land.

Weeks after first landing in the Americas Columbus thought he had found a large enough supply of gold and slaves to persuade the Christian “Sovereigns within three years [they] would undertake and prepare to go and conquer the Holy Places.” Pope Urban II had launched the first Crusade. He hoped the current Pope would ask him to lead “50 thousand foot soldiers and five thousand horsemen” to march on Jerusalem. He never abandoned this hope.

Columbus’s voyage across the Atlantic to reach the riches of Asia was also a first step toward his larger goal. After five weeks in the Atlantic, lying to grumbling crewmen, claiming he was not a man lost at sea, his food supplies running low, Columbus stumbled on a Caribbean island named Guanahani.  On the morning of October 12, 1492 with a crew in heavy armor carrying swords and muskets, he left the Santa Maria for the sunny shore. and a military and nationalist operation. He planted Spain’s flag in the soil, took “possession of the said island for the king and queen,” and renamed it San Salvador. “With fifty men your Highness would hold them all in subjection and do with them all that you could wish,” he wrote in his Diary. The Admiral was applying the new “doctrine of discovery” that granted Europe’s merchant adventurers the right t claim distant lands and  their inhabitants. Papal bulls of the time also divided “discovered” lands betweeen Spain and Portugal, and in 1494 the Vatican specifically drew a line dividing the Americas – and the slave trade – between these seafaring powers.

Columbus and his expedition was also a product of Spain’s painful “final solution.” Since 711 Spain’s Muslim Arab rulers shared their cultural wealth with and practiced toleration of the country’s diverse citizenry. Catholics, Jews and Muslims lived peacefully with neighbors, as Spain became a world center of books and learning.
Santiago Matamoros
Then Catholic King Ferdinand of Castille and Queen Isabella marshaled a Christian army to impose their rule. Castillian soldiers charged into battle with the cry “Santiago Matamoros” or “Kill the Moors.” By January 1492 Christian soldiers stood poised for victory and an era of ethnic cleansing.

On January 2, 1492 Ferdinand’s troops captured the splendid Moorish Alhambra castle, the last Arab power bastion in Grenada. An enthusiastic Columbus who stood in the cheering crowd later recorded the triumphal moment in the first sentence of his Diary. “I saw the Royal banner of your Highness placed on the towers of Alhambra  . . . and I saw the Moorish King come forth and kiss the royal hand of your Highness . . . . “

Spain’s new government quickly moved to finance Columbus’s voyage and against its minorities. On March 31 Spain’s Jews — as integrated into commercial, governmental and cultural life as Christian and Muslim citizens – were handed an Edict of Expulsion. Families were ordered into exile, and one official suggested, “The whole accursed race of Jews, of twenty years and upwards, might be purified by fire.”
The Inquisition forced many Jews to face the ultimate penalty. Even the “marranos,” families who had agreed to convert to Christianity, were not exempt. Can you trust people you forced to convert? Muslims also faced persecution and exile over the next ten years. By 1609 Spain had expelled Muslims it had converted to Christianity. Exiles lost everything but what they could carry.

The wealth that fell from tortured hands helped pay for Columbus’s historic voyage. His final sailing plans were completed when Luis de Santangel, Chancellor to the Royal Household, lent his King the last 17,000 florins – and by this act purchased his family’s right to remain in their homeland.

Some 150,000 refugees had trudged to southern seaports as time ran out for the Jews on the very day before Columbus left. On the day he weighed anchor at Palos, a small band of Jewish families huddled at nearby Cadiz waiting for a rescue ship.

The second sentence of Columbus’s Diary shows he was well aware of the connection between their expulsion and his departure. “After having turned all the Jews from your Kingdoms and Lordships . . . your Highness gave orders to me that with a sufficient fleet I should go.” The expulsion and Columbus’s departure were forever linked.

On his first night in the Bahamas, Spain’s “Captain of the Ocean Sea,” described in one Diary sentence how he brought the new Spain to the New World. “I took some of the natives by force.”  The enslavement of American Indians was both Columbus’s first act in the Americas, and a first step in his Crusade.
More Spanish troops arrived in the Americas to crush the Aztecs of Mexico, the Incas of Peru and other peoples of the Americas. Spaniards brought new weapons and a new battle cry — “Santiago Mataindios” or “Kill the Indians.” They unleashed the world’s largest, longest and most devastating genocide. Millions upon millions died of a harsh slavery, forced starvation and mass executions as well as European diseases. Entire villages and cities disappeared.

Along with his sailing skills and fierce ambition, Columbus carried in his heart the burning embers of his monarchy’s intolerance, violence and ravenous greed. Though the Admiral found Caribbean people “tractable, peaceable” and wrote King Ferdinand, “there is not in the world a better nation” — he concluded they must be “made to work . . . and adopt our ways.”

Oppression built slowly. Columbus’s initial voyage seized a few dozen Native men and women, some as slaves, others to present at the Royal Court. But his goal was largely exploratory. After another voyage he wrote to his King, “From here, in the name of the Blessed Trinity, we can send all the slaves that can be sold.” Spain’s rulers eagerly agreed to supply him with 17 ships, a thousand soldiers, priests who would conduct mass conversions, and orders for a brutal colonization. He began an island by island search for gold and slaves that decimated the fifty to a hundred million Native Americans.

Las Casas a Dominican Priest, denounced Spain’s invaders as “ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers and lions” whose ultimate aim . . . is to acquire gold.” The only true Christians in the Americans, he stated, were Native Americans.  Indians, he found, had their own name for the Spain’s Christians –“Yares” or devils.

Columbus did not “discover” anything but islands filled with people who greeted him with water, food and gifts. He repaid their generosity with treachery. He introduced two continents and many islands to a holocaust more thorough and lasting than any  in human history. As a devout servant of God he relished his work and offered no apologies.
Hatuey being executed in 1512.
But the Columbus story had another hidden side. Tiano and Arawak women and men with names like Anacoana and Hatuey who once warmly greeted him soon rebelled against colonial rule and enslavement. On Hispaniola Anacoana and her husband Coanabo led their people in the first known military uprising and were slain.

A few years later Hatuey and four hundred followers on Hispaniola left in canoes to warn Cubans of the murderous invaders. He and his soldiers were finally overwhelmed by superior Spanish forces, but Hatuey was carved into Cuban statues as their liberation hero.
Other Native Americans soon rose to mobilize their people against the Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch and English invaders, their muskets and cannons.

In 1502  — the age of Columbus, Anacoana and Hatuey — Native Americans found new allies in the Africans Europeans imported as slave laborers. That year Governor Nicolas de Ovando of Hispaniola complained to King Ferdinand that his Africans escaped to Indian villages and “never would be recaptured.” Africans and Native Americans realized they faced the same invaders and slave-catchers, and saw no need to fight them alone.

From Canada to Tierra del Fuego and the Caribbean islands, Africans and Indians were able form maroon settlements in the wilderness that protected their families and thrived through agricultural and trade. Some lasted for years or decades, and the Republic of Palmares in Northeastern Brazil had 10,000 people and lasted almost a century until 1694. Maroon villages and cities were the first in America to include Indians and foreigners, and to embrace the belief that all, Native American and newcomer, are created equal.

We should follow the advice of today’s Native Americans who reject Columbus Day in favor of a Native Americans Day. All Americans need to study and celebrate the heroic battles that pitted our first Americans against Europeans who would conquer and enslave them, and their African allies.

A Native Americans Day can educate all of us about the Indians who united with Africans to fight against foreign tyranny before, during and after 1776. It will remind everyone that Native Americans still seek the lands and monies promised in ancient treaties with United States. And it will inform us anew that Americans of color whose ancestors fought and died for the principle of freedom still do not enjoy all their inalienable rights.

© 2014 William Loren Katz

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Same School, Same Opportunities? Addressing Within-school Segregation

by Halley Potter 
( a Fellow at The Century Foundation.

As we mark the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision this year, promoting racial and socioeconomic integration in our schools remains an uphill battle. Re- search from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA shows that much of the progress made by legal desegregation was lost after court orders were lifted, and stu- dents of color increasingly face “double segregation” in racially iso- lated schools with high poverty concentrations.

There is so much work still to be done on the first level of integration, addressing disparities among schools, that it is easy to forget about the next frontier: addressing within-school segregation. Schools that look integrated from the outside based on aggregate demographics may be sharply segregated when you look at the classrooms, see who takes part in academic enrichment or support programs, or count the students that are not in the classroom because they have been suspended or expelled.

Remedying this internal segregation in schools and classrooms requires first identifying and understanding the problem. Adding to work on this front from scholars such as Gloria Ladson-Billings and Jeannie Oakes, R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, Associate Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at The City College of New York, makes an important contribution with his new book, Inequality in the Promised Land: Race, Resources and Suburban School-ing (Stanford Univ. Press, 2014, 232 pp.). The book provides a case study of the ways in which classrooms, schools and districts create unequal pathways to resources for families of different racial backgrounds and socio-economic statuses. While the study is small-scale, focused on three fourth-grade classrooms in two schools in a single Midwestern district, the patterns and pitfalls Lewis-McCoy uncovers are no doubt common in many locations across the country. The book is a worthwhile read for researchers, stakeholders and activists, who should reflect on ways that other districts may share some of these dynamics of inequality.

A District Divided
Inequality in the Promised Land profiles an unidentified Midwestern suburban school district that Lewis-McCoy dubs Rolling Acres Public Schools. (Individual schools and interview subjects in the book are also given pseudonyms to preserve anonymity.) Rolling Acres has a reputation as a good school district, garnering national academic and extracurricular accolades. It is the kind of school district that families with means flock to when choosing where to live. The district spends more than $10,000 per pupil each year, and just 20% of students receive free or reduced-price lunch. The largest racial/ethnic group in the district is white students, at 50% of the student population. Black students are the second largest group, at 15%. (Lewis-McCoy does not provide district-wide demographic data for other racial/ethnic groups.)

Over the past 60 years, the district went through a number of legal challenges and reforms to address de facto racial segregation of schools. The attitude of most white residents in the district, however, is that their schools are now well integrated. As one interviewee put it, “Our [Rolling Acres’] children are in the same classrooms.

Children in the same classrooms have the same opportunity to learn” (p. 28). Most black families, on the other hand, saw things differently. One middle-class black parent explained why her family chose to send their children to private schools instead of the generally well-regarded public schools. In Rolling Acres Public Schools, she declared, “there’s two systems. It’s an apartheid system” (p. 140).

“Same opportunity” or “an apartheid system”? Lewis-McCoy examines the relationships among students, families, teachers, administrators and politicians that yield such different views of the same school district. And from the picture that Lewis-McCoy paints, it is not at all the case that Rolling Acres children are in the same classrooms with the same opportunities. While elementary school classrooms in the district are not systematically segregated by race or class, and there is no ability tracking at that level, students’ opportunities varied according to their backgrounds.

Lewis-McCoy writes that “race and class are conjoined twins in a process of inequality production” in Rolling Acres (p. 172). The effects of race and class showed up in small and large ways in the district. Standardized test scores showed persistent race- and class-based achievement gaps. But most important, Lewis-McCoy argues, are the “gaps in everyday schooling experiences” (p. xi).

Three students who failed to get reading logs signed by parents received different responses and consequences from the same teacher, depending on her assessment of their socioeconomic status and home environment, and whether the families were “legitimately” or “illegitimately” busy. A middle-class black student received free breakfast because school staff mistakenly identify him for the program based on race. All students brought home optional forms soliciting parent input on classroom assignments for the next year, but affluent white families were most likely to return the forms.

In one classroom, some of the black families were missing from the parent-run email listserv. Black students were also overrepresented in special education and were more likely to spend considerable portions of their day in separate classrooms for pull-out services. The cumulative effects of these differences created stratified educational opportunities and outcomes for students.

A number of racial and socioeconomic dynamics contributed to these differences in schooling experiences. Middle-class and affluent families hired housekeepers and babysitters to allow them to rearrange schedules in order to take advantage of parent volunteer opportunities and afford time to sort through information about school and extracurricular offerings. And affluent families often held out the threat of exiting the public school system as leverage for getting their child into a particular classroom or program. Social networks were also crucial pathways for finding out information about school opportunities, and these networks were highly stratified by race and class.
For example, parents in an affluent, mostly white subdivision circulated a petition to keep their children out of the classroom of an African-American teacher with a bad reputation, while families in other neighborhoods—and a multiethnic family within the subdivision—were left unaware of these efforts. Middle-class and affluent white parents were often able to act as “consumers,” customizing education for their children through frequent feedback and requests, while most black families, including some who were middle-class, were pushed into the roles of “beneficiaries,” with little influence in their children’s schooling.

Affluent white parents were most likely to write letters to the editor, spark local news stories, or advocate for policy changes with school board members. And while some affluent black families would have been well-positioned to contribute to this discussion, Rolling Acres Public Schools’ mixed record of providing strong educational opportunities for black students created a vicious downward cycle that marginalized black voices. Concern about the public schools caused many black middle-class and affluent families to choose private, parochial or charter schools.

As a result, the voices of the black middle class were largely absent from advocacy for the traditional district schools.

Where they were present, middle-class black voices were less effective when advocates did not themselves have children enrolled in the public schools. As a result, pro- grams targeting disadvantaged students seldom garnered much polit cal support in Rolling Acres.

Halley Potter ( is a Fellow at The Century Foundation.

Barbara Sizemore: Problems with Standardized Tests

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Barbara Sizemore: Segregated vs. Integrated

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

SLAVERY BOOK REVIEW: "The Half Has Never Been Told"

A Brutal Process

'The Half Has Never Been Told,' by Edward E. Baptist

The auction of a baby, from a slave narrative published in 1849.
For residents of the world’s pre-­eminent capitalist nation, American historians have produced remarkably few studies of capitalism in the United States. This situation was exacerbated in the 1970s, when economic history began to migrate from history to economics departments, where it too often became an exercise in scouring the past for numerical data to plug into computerized models of the economy. Recently, however, the history of American capitalism has emerged as a thriving cottage industry. This new work portrays capitalism not as a given (something that “came in the first ships,” as the historian Carl Degler once wrote) but as a system that developed over time, has been constantly evolving and penetrates all aspects of society.

Slavery plays a crucial role in this literature. For decades, historians depicted the institution as unprofitable and on its way to extinction before the Civil War (a conflict that was therefore unnecessary). Recently, historians like Sven Beckert, Robin Blackburn and Walter Johnson have emphasized that cotton, the raw material of the early Industrial Revolution, was by far the most important commodity in 19th-century international trade and that capital accumulated through slave labor flowed into the coffers of Northern and British bankers, merchants and manufacturers. And far from being economically backward, slave owners pioneered advances in modern accounting and finance.

Edward E. Baptist situates “The Half Has Never Been Told” squarely within this context. Baptist, who teaches at Cornell University, is the author of a well-­regarded study of slavery in Florida. Now he expands his purview to the entire cotton kingdom, the heartland of 19th-­century American slavery. (Unfortunately, slavery in the Upper South, where cotton was not an economic staple, is barely discussed, even though as late as 1860 more slaves lived in Virginia than any other state.) In keeping with the approach of the new historians of capitalism, the book covers a great deal of ground — not only economic enterprise but religion, ideas of masculinity and gender, and national and Southern politics. Baptist’s work is a valuable addition to the growing literature on slavery and American development.

Where Baptist breaks new ground is in his emphasis on the centrality of the interstate trade in slaves to the regional and national economies and his treatment of the role of extreme violence in the workings of the slave system. After the legal importation of slaves from outside the country ended in 1808, the spread of slavery into the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico would not have been possible without the enormous uprooting of people from Maryland and Virginia. Almost one million slaves, Baptist estimates, were transported to the cotton fields from the Upper South in the decades before the Civil War.

The domestic slave trade was highly organized and economically efficient, relying on such modern technologies as the steamboat, railroad and telegraph. For African-Americans, its results were devastating. Since buyers preferred young workers “with no attachments,” the separation of husbands from wives and parents from children was intrinsic to its operation, not, as many historians have claimed, a regrettable side effect. Baptist shows how slaves struggled to recreate a sense of community in the face of this disaster.

The sellers of slaves, Baptist insists, were not generally paternalistic owners who fell on hard times and parted reluctantly with members of their metaphorical plantation “families,” but entrepreneurs who knew an opportunity for gain when they saw one. As for the slave traders — the middlemen — they excelled at maximizing profits. They not only emphasized the labor abilities of those for sale (reinforced by humiliating public inspections of their bodies), but appealed to buyers’ salacious fantasies. In the 1830s, the term “fancy girl” began to appear in slave-trade notices to describe young women who fetched high prices because of their physical attractiveness. “Slavery’s frontier,” Baptist writes, “was a white man’s sexual playground.”

The cotton kingdom that arose in the Deep South was incredibly brutal. Violence against Native Americans who originally owned the land, competing imperial powers like Spain and Britain and slave rebels solidified American control of the Gulf states. Violence, Baptist contends, explains the remarkable increase of labor productivity on cotton plantations. Without any technological innovations in cotton picking, output per hand rose dramatically between 1800 and 1860. Some economic historians have attributed this to incentives like money payments for good work and the opportunity to rise to skilled positions. Baptist rejects this explanation.

Planters called their method of labor control the “pushing system.” Each slave was assigned a daily picking quota, which increased steadily over time. Baptist, who feels that historians too often employ circumlocutions that obscure the horrors of slavery, prefers to call it “the ‘whipping-machine’ system.” In fact, the word we should really use, he insists, is “torture.” To make slaves work harder and harder, planters utilized not only incessant beating but forms of discipline familiar in our own time — sexual humiliation, bodily mutilation, even waterboarding. 

In the cotton kingdom, “white people inflicted torture far more often than in almost any human society that ever existed.” When Abraham Lincoln reminded Americans in his Second Inaugural Address of the 250 years of “blood drawn with the lash” that preceded the Civil War, he was making a similar point: Violence did not begin in the United States with the firing on Fort Sumter.

Baptist has a knack for explaining complex financial matters in lucid prose. He relates how in the 1830s Southern banks developed new financial instruments, bonds with slaves as collateral, that enabled planters to borrow enormous amounts of money to acquire new land, and how lawmakers backed these bonds with the state’s credit. A speculative bubble ensued, and when it collapsed, taxpayers were left to foot the bill. But rather than bailing out Northern and European bondholders, several states simply defaulted on their debts. Many planters fled with their slaves to Texas, until 1845 an independent republic, to avoid creditors. “Honor,” a key element in Southern notions of masculinity, went only so far.

By the 1850s, prosperity returned to the cotton economy, and planters had no difficulty obtaining loans in financial markets. As the railroad opened new areas to cultivation and cotton output soared, slave owners saw themselves as a modern, successful part of the world capitalist economy. They claimed the right to bring their slaves into all the nation’s territories, and indeed into free states. These demands aroused intense opposition in the North, leading to Lincoln’s election, secession and civil war.

Baptist clearly hopes his findings will reach a readership beyond academe — a worthy ambition. 

He pursues this goal, however, in ways that sometimes undermine the book’s coherence. The chapter titles, which refer to parts of the body, often have little connection to the content that follows. Presumably to avoid sounding academic, he sprinkles the text with anachronistic colloquialisms (“the president was all in” is how he describes Franklin Pierce’s embrace of the Kansas-Nebraska bill in 1854) and with telegraphic sentences more appropriate for Twitter. 

Occasionally, he deploys four-letter words that cannot be reproduced in these pages. This is unnecessary — his story does not require additional shock value.

It is hardly a secret that slavery is deeply embedded in our nation’s history. But many Americans still see it as essentially a footnote, an exception to a dominant narrative of the expansion of liberty on this continent. If the various elements of “The Half Has Never Been Told” are not entirely pulled together, its underlying argument is persuasive: Slavery was essential to American development and, indeed, to the violent construction of the capitalist world in which we live.


Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism
By Edward E. Baptist
Illustrated. 498 pp. Basic Books. $35.