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Fighting the Good Fight Against ALS and The Tragic Cost of E-Waste

CBS Sunday Morning / Jane Pauley
The Truth Network Radio
November 26, 2023 4:39 pm

Fighting the Good Fight Against ALS and The Tragic Cost of E-Waste

CBS Sunday Morning / Jane Pauley

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November 26, 2023 4:39 pm

Hosted by Jane Pauley. In our cover story, Lee Cowan revisits a man who has beaten the odds on his diagnosis of ALS – and successfully lobbied for more research funding from Congress. Also: Mark Phillips sits down with Ridley Scott, director of the new epic film "Napoleon"; Kelefa Sanneh talks with 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Chaka Khan; Seth Doane looks at the scourge of e-waste, exported from the West to the global South; Robert Costa interviews Atlantic writer Tim Alberta about his book on evangelical Christians and politics, called "The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory"; Journalist Mark Chiusano, author of "The Fabulist," says the New York Republican won - and kept - his seat in Congress because the weakness of America's institutions allowed Santos' lies to go undetected. 

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That's W-O-N-D-E-R-Y-P-O-D. Audible dot com slash wondery pod or text wondery pod to 500 500 to try Audible for free for 30 days. Good morning. I'm Jane Pauley, and this is Sunday morning. At this time of year when we give thanks, for some of us, it's time itself we're most grateful for. For those battling life threatening illnesses, just living to see another holiday surrounded by family and friends is reason enough for gratitude. This morning, Lee Cowan is talking with a couple engaged in this very battle while also fighting to make certain advances in medical research and access to cutting edge therapies reach every patient in need. As the Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, we offer a family who should deserve all our thanks. When you look at it, do you ever step back and just think to yourself how far you've come, not only physically, but all the stuff you've done for thousands of people?

I do almost every day. The disappointments, the victories and the grace of battling a terminal disease coming up on Sunday morning. California this morning sits down with singer Chaka Khan, who had a problem early in her career, the very best kind of problem. Nearly four decades ago, this music legend made a hit so big that she could never escape it. Did you know that that intro was going to be so iconic? Yes, I knew that was going to be the kiss of death for me. I got to live with this.

Ahead on Sunday morning, Chaka Khan enters the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Most of us may think recycling our discarded electronics is a process that's clean and green, but Seth Doan explains that in reality, it can be a dirty, even dangerous business. If Black Friday or Cyber Monday have you thinking about buying or gifting electronics, why does all this waste come to Ghana? Well, what you see here is a dangerous consequence of the world's insatiable demand for electronic gadgets.

We journey to Ghana to see how in addition to the price tag, there's another real cost to consider when buying that new phone or TV, later this Sunday morning. Also this morning, contributor Josh Seftel's mom offers her take on artificial intelligence. Mark Phillips talks with the noted director behind movies like Gladiator and the newly released Napoleon, Ridley Scott. Robert Costa explores the merging of politics and religion with author Tim Alberta, plus commentary on Congressman George Santos' growing woes and more on this Sunday morning for the 26th of November, 2023.

We'll be back after this. Hey, I'm Arisha and I'm Brooke, and we're the hosts of Wondery's podcast, Even the Rich, where we bring you absolutely true and absolutely shocking stories about the most famous families and biggest celebrities the world has ever seen. Our newest series is all about the royal spare Prince Harry, stalked by grief and terrorized by the press. He grew up as the black sheep of the British royal family, but when he finally pushes through his stoic exterior and lets his feelings in, he'll have to make a choice he never thought he'd face. In our series, Prince Harry, Windsor of Change, we'll tell you how Harry discarded years of tradition to find the happiness he always craved. Follow Even the Rich on the Wondery app or wherever you get your podcasts. You can binge Even the Rich and Prince Harry, Windsor of Change early and ad-free right now on Wondery+. I'm Keri Mulligan, the host of I Hear Fear, a new anthology series of terror. You and I know that the best scary stories are the ones we tell each other in the dark, so turn off your lights and close your eyes.

Follow I Hear Fear on the Wondery app or wherever you get your podcasts. Imagine grappling with what's diagnosed as an incurable illness and being denied access to promising medical advancements that could save your life. Lee Cowan catches up with a couple on a mission, fighting the good fight. The first time we met Brian Wallach, we feared it might be our last. He was already four years into a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a rare and incurable disease that on average takes patients in two to five years. But we're pleased to say that this past summer, Brian and his wife, Sandra Abravaia, invited us back to their home outside Chicago.

You were like really big on Cool Ranch Doritos for a time. With their two daughters, now six and eight, the family just celebrated their sixth Thanksgiving since the diagnosis. Only about 20% of ALS patients ever achieved that kind of longevity. I have been progressing, but the good news is I'm still here.

How much has that extra time meant? It's everything. As ALS does, it's been slowly killing off the nerves that move Brian's muscles, including those for speech, so sometimes a smile and a wink will just have to do.

I got really good at winking. That's true. But even a soft-spoken Brian is a force to be reckoned with.

So when I was a prosecutor... Although he might need round-the-clock care, Brian is still pushing as hard as he ever did, working long days, taking long trips, all to keep his promise to improve the lives of ALS patients everywhere. That work all began back in 2019, when Brian and Sandra launched I am ALS, a grassroots movement that has given ALS patients a voice in their own care.

Let me get everyone on. Thank you. Brian and Sandra had once been staffers in the Obama administration, so they pretty much knew their way around Washington.

I'm here to ask you to see us, to hear us. And almost right out of the gate, I am ALS was instrumental in helping increase federal funding for research by $83 million. And that helped launch dozens of clinical trials for new ALS therapies.

I'm going to start with the big ones, a few more. But Brian himself didn't qualify for those clinical trials. Doctors thought he wouldn't live long enough anyway to benefit.

Basically, they treat you like it's a straight line to palliative care, and they tell you to get your affairs in order and prepare to die. One of the most promising was an experimental therapy called AMX0035. Brian was taking some of the ingredients, but he couldn't get his hands on the drug itself because the FDA hadn't approved it. We are facing a disease that's 100 percent federal, and we are willing to take those risks. Just like a political campaign, Brian started firing up supporters for a bill that he later helped write, called Act for ALS. So the thinking behind Act for ALS is use this funding to pay for this group of patients to get access to the drug before it's officially approved by the FDA. In the summer of 2021, Brian sat next to Sandra in a Capitol Hill hearing room, in tears.

This is a closing argument for a man. When you sat down, you really kind of lost it. I was overwhelmed by the sense of responsibility that I felt to other patients. We want to make you have the power to make that possible. Act for ALS was a long and difficult fight.

Giving unapproved therapies to terminally ill patients was an idea fraught with moral pitfalls. And yet... The eyes do have it. The bill's passed.

Act for ALS became law, funneling more than $100 million a year for the next five years to various ALS initiatives. For once, Brian is speechless. We're sort of in shock. It's like a Hollywood plot point, but you're not far off. Their friend Chris Burke began working on a documentary he called No Ordinary Campaign.

Pop star Rachel Platten was so moved, she let them use her single Fight Song as the soundtrack. Brian Waller and his wife, Sandra, I say hi to you both. They turned their pain into purpose.

But the change Brian and Sandra are affecting didn't end where the documentary does. We're going to make real progress. Again, thank you all. Thank you, Mr. Brother. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Mr.

Brother. In fact, their newest fight is helping ALS patients get better access to specialists. We tried to change the way that doctors were practicing medicine in neurodegenerative diseases, and we hit a wall, and so we started our own medical practice. It's called SynaptiCure, a for-profit telemedicine practice that gets people with a host of neurological diseases, including ALS, the care they need, faster. The Food and Drug Administration approved a new therapy for ALS. Those treating ALS now have more options than they've had in decades. The FDA has approved two more therapies for ALS, including that one that Brian had been denied when we first met him. This is the drug that we were fighting for FDA to approve. Yeah.

And it's here. AMX 0035, now called Relivio, tastes pretty awful, he says, but he thinks it's made a huge difference. We credit Brian being as healthy as he is, relatively speaking, to the fact that we were one of the first people who found a way to at least take a portion of this drug for years. The other newly approved therapy is Tofersin, now under the brand name Calcity. In 2019, Chris Snow got access to it as part of a clinical trial for his rare inherited form of ALS.

I don't necessarily feel like myself or look like myself, and I act like myself. Chris was given just six months to a year to live, but he was still going strong more than four years later, and his wife Kelsey had no doubt it was because of the drug. The quality of life that this has given us is really a miracle. They shouted to the rafters how active Chris had remained.

As recently as last summer, they were posting pictures of him mowing the lawn out on a boat. If you can see and care about my family and that makes you care about this cause, that's what I'm going for. They were as optimistic as they come, until Chris went into cardiac arrest two months ago and never recovered, a loss that hit Brian and Sandra hard. But it's also emboldened them to fight even harder. Brian is so defiant that even though his legs are uncooperative, he still pushes himself to walk. And every day he gets to try, he says, gives science another day to take its steps forward to find a lasting remedy. And Brian says he's bound and determined to be here when that happens. How do you stay so positive knowing that there is no cure and you just keep pushing forward? I have hope that I can be a part of the first generation to actually survive ALS.

We all hope he's right. The Wondery app, Amazon music, or wherever you get your podcasts. This is Stephen Colbert here to talk to you about The Late Show Pod Show, which is our podcast of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I'm here with my producer, Becca. Becca, what can people expect on the podcast?

The extended moments, for sure. For instance, if I'm talking to Tom Hanks for like 20 minutes, only 14 of that ever makes it to air because we just don't have time. And Tom's a jabber jaw. You know, he's a chatty Kathy, but it's all gold because it's Tom Hanks and we put that on the podcast. We do.

That's value added. Listen to The Late Show Pod Show with Stephen Colbert wherever you get your podcasts. As the actual son of a preacher man, it's hardly a surprise journalist Tim Alberta has a personal take on the growing intersection of faith and politics. He's talking with our Robert Costa.

Pretty amazing. Goodwill Church in New York's leafy Hudson Valley is a special destination for the Atlantic's Tim Alberta. There's something so deeply familiar about this place, it's hard to describe. This is where his family's faith journey began. You know, my parents always described this church as holy ground for our family. Tim's father, Richard Alberta, was once a pastor on this pulpit after becoming a born again Christian here nearly 50 years ago.

I don't know where he sat. I don't know what the sermon was that day, but something happened. A guy who'd been an atheist for years, you know, decided that he was going to give his life to Jesus. Now that's you in Sunday school class out here at Cornerstone. The Alberta family later moved to Michigan, where Tim's father led Cornerstone Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Your life was Cornerstone. My life was completely wrapped up in the church. It was the son around which we as a family revolved.

It was our whole world. But Tim Alberta sought a career in journalism, writing about politics. His father urged him to stay grounded, including in a 2019 chat he'll never forget. He keeps saying to me, don't spend your whole career around these people. There are so many other stories. And that was one of the last conversations we had.

Days later, Tim's dad suddenly died. When I come home to my church, I'm expecting, I guess, something different from what I got. While some offered consolation, Alberta also got confrontation from some conservative church members, objecting to his reporting on then-President Donald Trump. A lot of folks right there at the viewing just, they wanted to argue about politics. You know, they wanted to know if I was still a Christian.

And my dad's in a box, like 100 feet away. The church wasn't a sanctuary from politics. Politics was now part of the church. That's right. I knew that to some degree.

And in fact, I willfully ignored it. Alberta's reckoning with faith and politics is the basis for his new book, The Kingdom, the Power and the Glory, which documents what he calls an age of extremism for evangelicals. There was a real crisis in the American church, specifically a crisis in the white evangelical church. About a quarter of American adults identify as evangelical. And as the Republican presidential race heats up, nearly 70 percent of white evangelicals are supportive of Trump. Alberta says that reflects a shift away from norms in the GOP and in the church. We should think about the American church almost in parallel to American politics.

When it gains enough influence, when it gains enough power, the fringe can overtake the mainstream. And that's what we've seen happen in the church. The convulsions in today's churches come after decades of evangelicals gaining influence. Do you love God?

Do you love him with all your heart, with all your soul? From Billy Graham's stadium crusades to the stadium rallies of Donald Trump. But, you know, we have our Christian conservatives for Trump today, and they're in the room.

Let's go. In recent years, evangelicals have had debates over the response to COVID and to Trump, all while many key Republicans count themselves as one of them. What do people say about politics? That's bad.

That's dirty. What do they say to you about politics? Don't get involved. Now those altars in the wilderness. Back at Goodwill Church, senior pastor John Torres, who used to work with Tim's dad, is uneasy about the shadow of politics over his church and others. I don't want somebody who's sitting there listening to me preach, you know, whatever their views are.

I want them to stay put. I want to talk to them about Jesus. I don't want to talk to them about politics because I don't really know what I can offer them in terms of politics. Other evangelicals don't mind politics and see this moment as an affirmation of hard-won power.

What do you say to evangelical leaders who might hear your argument and say, you missed the point? Trump wins for evangelical Christians. He wins for conservatives. Wins what?

Supreme Court seats, a seat at the table at the White House. Show me where in Scripture any of that matters. But it does matter to many of those standing with Trump as he once again seeks the White House. You had millions of evangelical Christians who voted for Donald Trump and just sort of gleefully embraced his terrible rhetoric and his un-Christ-like conduct.

Why did they gleefully embrace it, to use your term? Power. Trump campaigned for president in 2016 promising that if he was elected, Christians would have power. And he gave it to them. He gave it to them in ways that arguably no American president has in modern history. And when you have power, you can very quickly lose sight of your principles, your values, even your beliefs. How's your faith?

You know, honestly, it's never been better. Tim Alberta's faith in reporting is also strong, and he says that is his own calling. You and I, we're reporters.

That's right. We're not supposed to be the story. I never wanted to be the story. Once you see this, you can't look away.

On the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. Why doesn't the hero reveal himself and tell us all your real name? You do have a name. My name is Gladiator. The acclaimed director of Gladiator and other movie classics has turned his attention to another great warrior.

From Paris, Mark Phillips is in conversation with Ridley Scott. Prepare to fire! Fire!

Fire! Any casual student of history knows how the story of Napoleon Bonaparte ends. Waterloo, 1815. After more than two decades of dominating European battlefields and European history, Napoleon was finally confronted by an enemy he couldn't outmaneuver, outgun, or outsmart. Never surrender for homeland and glory! Napoleon, that once obscure outsider from Corsica, the artillery officer who, through ruthlessness and cunning, rose to rule France and to conquer much of Europe, died defeated, in exile and alone. His remains now lie in this grand tomb in Paris, a testament to an emperor who brought glory and then destruction to his own country. But history and Hollywood aren't finished with him yet. Have you been to this place before?

No. Director Ridley Scott decided his epic take on Napoleon, played by Joaquin Phoenix, would be less another history lesson and more a character study. Where do you start on a story as big as Napoleon? You've got 10,400 books to start. There's one book written every week since he died. By the time you get book 1,000, dude, I think there's got to be a lot of speculation. So all these historians that have piled on you saying, you know, No, no, no, I'm not going to walk into that death row.

Are you f***ing kidding me? So, sorry, we then glean the best of the best. So I don't think it's a history lesson, I think it's a character study with violence, with action, with everything you've got.

I think you've got everything in that. Wait! Let them think they have the higher ground!

The history books are full of Napoleon's triumphs. Send them to infantry! Take that position on the higher ground!

But there was another aspect of his life that Scott thinks history hasn't stressed enough. Why are you staring at me? Am I? No. I was not.

Oh, you weren't. Josephine, the aristocratic widow who became Napoleon's obsession, wife, and empress. What was most telling were the letters of Bonaparte to Josephine, because I wanted the centerpiece of the story not to be just about battles, but about why this Achilles heel towards this woman, which is not about sex, about social graces. She could lead him into a room where he didn't know how to walk.

She could do that. You want to be great. You have also been, according to Scott, the only person to tell him to his face what he really was.

You are just a brute that is nothing without me. You make him out as a bit of a bumbler in his love life. He was a bumbler on a personal level, but in the military level, gifted. But do you draw a connection between the two? I go back to this idea of the Napoleonic complex, that it's somehow compensation. The reputation is that he was a little man, and now we refer to little men with grander ambitions as having Napoleon. I think that's a popular concept, but when he's that successful, who gives a ****? Are you joking?

Ridley Scott has no complex about his own success. Do you consider yourself a kind of bankable Hollywood grandee now? Like that? Like that. I wouldn't be allowed to do this. Are you kidding?

The old geezer's doing this now. Scott has a long list of epic movies that have become classics. Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained? Gladiator, Alien, Thelma & Louise.

Officer, I am so sorry about this. Would you let go of that? Black Hawk Down. And Blade Runner, which bombed at the box office at first, but has become a cult classic. Has some of the stuff that you've done that you've liked best become some of the stuff that hasn't done quite so well if we're speaking in pure box office terms? I like everything I've done. You love everything you've done.

And so I think you're all wrong. It's no accident that Sir Ridley, as he now is, has always made movies with powerful and lasting visual imagery. He's a trained artist who has always sketched out on storyboards exactly how he wants his movies to look. That infamous creature birth scene in Alien looked like this before it looked like this. Those gladiators were drawn on paper before they hit the big screen. And that Waterloo battle scene took almost comic book form before the cameras rolled. The storyboards, he says, are what convinced investors to back his movies. That's the power of a storyboard because the board, on the basis of the storyboard, the budget doubled. They went, wow.

They could see what it was going to look like. Yes. Interesting.

A lot of the business is run by those who can't see it and those who try to see it. Odd in the movie business, I suppose. Again and again. Ridley Scott is 85 now.

He didn't make his first movie until he was 40, having made TV commercials before that. And he's already got two more projects underway. One of them, Gladiator 2. You've got to keep on doing this. Yes. Why not?

I don't know. What have you got left to prove? Well, the fact I love doing it.

That's the difference. You've won a lot of awards. You famously haven't won an Oscar. I really don't care. To me, to be allowed to do it is the most important reward. I just love storytelling. Especially stories like this. The battle is mine.

There will be an end to the war. Maybe you talked about it over Thanksgiving dinner. Artificial intelligence. Stories about it are seemingly everywhere.

Which brings us to Josh Seftel and his mom. Hello. Do you know what AI is? Artificial intelligence. What do you know about it?

Not much. It's machines inventing things instead of human minds doing it. Artificial intelligence is quickly evolving. Systems from Google and Microsoft creating art.

Even diagnosing some potentially deadly diseases. Google CEO Sundar Pichai told us society must quickly adapt. I don't like it. I don't like thinking about it. What scares you about AI?

It could get out of control. Remember that movie 2001? Open the pod bay doors, hell. Yeah, exactly.

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that. Maybe that could happen to you and your condo. What would take over? I don't know.

How about my microwave? You know, I can do some AI right now. What do you mean? I could ask it to write a haiku. On Zoom's windowed gaze, mother and son bridge the code. AI whispers hope. Who wrote that?

A computer. I liked it. But it's really promoting AI. Yeah, kind of weird, right? Yeah. I can also do photos on AI.

I just emailed it to you. Oh, wow. That's not now, though. What do you mean? It's a photo of me at another time with different clothes on. But it's not you or me. A computer created that picture.

Oh my God. What would you like to ask AI? How about a poem about all my grandchildren?

What do you want to tell it? Do you wish you saw them more often? Yeah, I wish I could be with them more often.

I'm proud of them. Oh, wow. It's ready. Okay.

That's asked? Across the miles, her heart does roam. Grandma Pat's love finds a warm home. Six grandchildren, a precious crew.

From age two to 28, they grew. In her dream, she holds them tight. Their laughter and smiles bring pure delight. That was nice. Can you believe a computer wrote that in three seconds? Wow. So you do like AI.

I like that, but I find it extremely frightening, even though it did a wonderful job. So you would say, let's put a hold on AI to make sure we know what we're doing. Absolutely. Would you like to keep that poem?

Yes. I mean, they already did it, so I might as well. How would you use AI? I don't think I would. Think of all the things you could do with it. You could write letters, get recipes. It could make your schedule for you. I want to ask you a question. If it can do all that, what would I be doing? Yeah, good question.

Yeah, I think so too. It's Sunday morning on CBS, and here again is Jane Pauley. A few decades ago, a name rocked many a top ten list, and now she's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Kellefisane talks with music legend Chaka Khan. Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan. Let me rock you, let me rock you, Chaka Khan.

It was 1984, and the name Chaka Khan was on repeat all over the world. Did you know that that intro was going to be so iconic? Yes, I knew that was going to be the kiss of death for me. I feel for you, I think I love you. I Feel For You, written by Prince and featuring the rapper Melly Mel, shot up the charts.

Everyone loved that intro, except maybe Khan herself. I was embarrassed. Embarrassed? Yeah, I didn't like anybody saying my name over us.

I got to live with this. Earlier this month, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. So how much of your life have you spent backstage in arenas like this one? Half of it. Half of your life?

Half of my life. Chaka Khan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She performed at the ceremony with friends like Sia, Her, and Common, though she's not eager to embark on a new tour. Are you able now to sort of take a breath and really enjoy the fact that so many people want to celebrate what you've done?

How about I can now sit back and look at some good movies and spend some time with my grandchildren, plant some flowers and ****. At age 70, she's certainly earned some time off. She built her legacy with a string of monster hits starting in the 1970s. Classics like Sweet Thing, Ain't Nobody, and Tell Me Something Good, written by Stevie Wonder. There's this famous story where he comes in and he says, I've got a song that you guys might like, and he plays it, and you famously say... Yeah, what else have you got?

Yeah, it's only fair. Turns out he did have something else, a new song which became Tell Me Something Good. Half a century later... I'll still be singing this freaking fact song, yeah, right.

People won't let you leave the stage until they hear it. That's true. This is the story. She was born Yvette Marie Stevens in Chicago.

At 13, a Yoruba priest gave her an African name. Khan came from my first husband, from India. Wow. Well, it goes together well. It does.

It works better than Yvette Stevens. Newly named for a warrior, Khan joined the Black Panther Party after becoming friends with Fred Hampton, one of its leaders. What was inspiring to you about that movement?

That it was correct, that it was honest, and they were telling some truths. There's a moment where, after an altercation with the police, you find yourself in possession of a police officer's gun. Mm-hmm, and I made a decision. Did it take you a while to figure this out? Took me a second, yeah. And what did you do with the gun?

I threw it in Botany's pond, in Hyde Park. She decided to focus on music, singing with the funk band Rufus and then on her own. Her first solo album, from 1978, included a song that became an anthem. I'm every woman, it's all in me. It was you really telling people, this is who I am. Yeah, that was the message in the song. By the 80s, Shaka Khan was a household name.

I feel for you. And after the success of I Feel For You, she grew close with the guy who wrote it, Prince. We both read the same stuff, and we talked a lot of philosophy, and then we decided we wanted to work together.

Come to my house In 1998, he helped write and produce her album, Come to My House. We did that whole CD in two weeks' time. You created the music?

I give him the lyrics, and he'd come back the next night to the track. Wow. Unbelievable. Had you ever worked like that before? Never.

I was some kind of genius. In 2016, Prince died at his home in Minnesota of an accidental drug overdose. Did you know that Prince was struggling toward the end of his life? No, I did not. Not at all?

No. I knew that he had some breaks, his hip and his ankles and all that stuff, but at one point in my life, I was an avid druggie myself. You'd think I could recognize that, but I just didn't.

He's a very giving, loving, open, yet private person, and so I just had no clue. Shaka Khan's own struggle with drug addiction lasted decades. You wrote in your memoir, Whenever I started feeling stuff that I didn't want to feel, I got high. That was one of the reasons I got high.

I'm sure I enjoyed it as well at some point to some extent. It was part of my life experience. Right. And yet at the same time, you were so productive, making so much music, so much great music.

Yeah. Cuckoo. How did I have two kids? When you look back, is there anything you regret from many decades of your career? Nothing. Nothing?

Nothing. Today, her songs are inspiring a new generation of listeners and performers. After a car crash in 2002, Kanye West sampled a sped-up recording of Shaka Khan's song, Through the Fire, calling his version, Through the Wire. It was the single that launched his career. That was a very meaningful song. Yeah.

He called me, and he still has his mouth wired, and after he told me about the horrific accident and all that, I said, of course, I'd be happy to be a part of that. It's continuing new generations are discovering your music and hearing it in a different way. Is that something that you care about? Absolutely.

It's my legacy. That's why I'm here. As we begin the busiest time of year for shopping and gift-giving, you may be thinking about a new phone or laptop.

This morning, Seth Doan asks, At what cost? These are not the images we see in the glossy advertisements enticing us to buy a new cell phone, laptop, or TV. But this should be part of the picture, because this is where many of our electronics are. Strewn and mountains of garbage across acres of land with tens of thousands of people sifting through it in places like this, the African nation of Ghana. We think a lot about where products come from when we buy them, less so about where they go when we're finished. One researcher told us, when we throw things away, well, this is a way. It's also home for Mohammed Awal, who supports his mother and four kids by working, despite the risks here, in this city of waste in Ghana's capital, Accra.

What happens to your body in doing this work? You see my body. I've got a wound here, scarred. There's another scar there.

This is the first time in my life I've ever seen a man with another scar there. This dangerous, difficult, and, yes, dirty work is called urban mining. It's all about extracting something usable from the world's discarded electronics. They do it because there's treasure here, recovered in this case by sawing a monitor's circuit board. Incredibly, there's 100 times more gold in a ton of smartphones than a ton of gold ore. But finding it comes with a real cost. It's hazardous work, and safety equipment is not exactly standard.

Children as young as 10 toil and sometimes live amid this toxic garbage, desperate for a meagre payday. You're selling this? This is all copper? Yes. Abdullah Ilyas endures the sweltering heat to pluck out tiny pieces of copper. So this is maybe worth three dollars?

Yes. The UN figures we produce around 50 million tonnes of electronic waste, or e-waste, every year, and this is not what's supposed to happen to it. Only 20 per cent is formally recycled. The vast majority winds up in landfills, or is dealt with informally. These places wouldn't exit without the demand for the materials they extract.

Muntaka Chassant has been documenting the lives of those living on the margins. Here, what cannot be pried out is often burned to extract minerals. One of the ramifications of this is lead exposure among urban poor children.

But he urged us to see this place with nuance. The reality is a murky, polluted grey. E-waste provides opportunities for upward social mobility. You're saying you can't just look at this as all bad because this is creating jobs? Absolutely. But this is also dangerous, polluting the environment?

We've been having this same conversation for more than a decade now, and absolutely nothing has changed. While we've been talking, someone set a fire here. You look at the pollution that goes into the sky behind you. Yes, this is what people in Accra have been living with.

And just across here is the largest open food market in the city. When you burn, a lot of chemicals are released, poisonous chemicals. Anita Asamo is an environmental chemist at Ghana's Atomic Energy Commission. She's not only a scientist. I'm a mother myself, and I wouldn't want to give poisonous substances to my baby.

She'd seen the smoke wafting over homes and markets, and food is regularly sold in the open at the dump. So Asamo wondered whether those toxins were so pervasive that they were even getting into the breast milk of mothers. What did you find when you examined this breast milk? PCBs, these are poisonous substances which can result in death, which can result in diseases like cancer, and infants are even more susceptible to these chemicals.

These burdens are the consequence of consumption in a much richer West. What you see here is the result of the very, very short kind of cycles we have in using stuff. You buy something, you use it, you throw it away. Yeah, you throw it away. Bas van Abel argues producers need to consider a product's end of life when designing it. Right now we're incentivized to throw away stuff, because it's cheaper to buy a new one than actually have it repaired.

Van Abel is a Dutch activist turned entrepreneur whose investigations into mining practices led him to start a company called Fairphone. Its aim is to create a more sustainable phone and cut down on scenes like these. Unfortunately phones and electronics are designed in a way that you can't really reuse components and parts of it. So what happens is that this whole product basically goes into the oven and you burn it and you get the minerals out of it. It's a very stupid process.

What do you mean stupid process? Well, it's kind of stupid to put something in an incinerator that's put so much effort into making. Most of the footprint of a phone is in the making of it. So the best thing is to keep it as long as possible.

It's a bit thicker. He showed us his Fairphone, which he likens to Legos because of its removable modular parts. It pops right off.

Yours to open, yours to keep. The battery is not glued in, making it simple and inexpensive to recycle around. It's the same for the camera lens and screen. Fairphone, which just launched in the US and sells for up to $700 a piece, has half a million customers worldwide. Proof of concept, they say. Americans on average upgrade their cell phone every two and a half years. Fairphones are under warranty for five. If you use your phone twice as long, you need to use only half the amount of phones and you have half the amount of electronic waste.

It's a very simple concept. Imprecise methods of recycling produce more waste, which bleaches into the earth here. Pollutants and microplastics run into a nearby river and the ocean. On the beach, we found plastics that were not exactly micro. Fishermen told us how their nets tear because now their catch of the day, often in nature, because now their catch of the day often includes e-waste. The refrigerators, the laptops, it shouldn't be around the ocean. It causes harm. It's your waste, so don't just ship your waste to us and tell us that it's secondhand, you can use it.

Come inside. Vincent Trey calls himself the graduate scrap dealer. He's a PhD who's been studying this dump and the old one nearby, known as Ablobloshie, for more than a decade. I think a lot of people will watch this and be upset, but also feel powerless. What can people, consumers, a world away do? I believe strongly that those who are producing this, when they put this material on their market, they are responsible for the end of life. We reached out to Apple, the largest mobile phone seller in the U.S. Apple did not make someone available to talk with us for this story, Samsung, one of the largest electronics manufacturers in the world, invited us to their store in Palo Alto, California. Where does the responsibility lie here? In Ghana, we hear it's the producer.

I think every party in the entire value chain has some responsibility. Mark Newton is the head of corporate sustainability at Samsung U.S. He says every product is designed with the ultimate end of life in mind. This doesn't look like a place that's encouraging me to hold on to my phone longer. It looks like someplace that's encouraging me to buy a new phone.

Well, of course, we want to excite you with the newest technology. But what's cool now, we're making our highest performing products with 20% recycled plastics, 20% recycled glass, 20% recycled metals. In the back of the store, there's the first stage of a recycling operation.

Samsung takes back electronics of any brand. Samsung has recycling centers internationally in something like 50 countries. But in Africa, the only one is in South Africa. Why not in Ghana, Nigeria, these places where we know the need really exists?

I think that we're really leaning into that now. So we've fairly recently recognized that and made a significant commitment to expand our collection network globally. But this recycling effort is largely self-policed in the United States. The U.S., the most wasteful country per capita on earth, is not part of this very important treaty.

America has not ratified an agreement that 191 other countries support. The Basel Convention is the treaty that was supposed to deal with this phenomenon of hazardous waste suddenly flowing to developing countries. And there is a strong lobby that is happy to have no trade restrictions on waste. Jim Puckett founded the Basel Action Network, a watchdog group which pushes for proper recycling. Once the rich countries realized, oh my God, we've got a problem with hazardous waste, the price went up for properly managing it, and so the export trade took off. Sending tons of hazardous waste to the developing world, much of it getting through customs under the guise of being repairable.

Why Ghana? We have issues of compliance and enforcements. Vincent Trey now runs a recycling initiative, Mountain Research Institute, at the dump site.

This is a small project, but it is one possible solution. They buy cables to incentivize people not to burn them. There is a real gray area here. These are important jobs. These are livelihoods. Should I sit down and not eat because if I burn, somebody will die?

If I don't burn, I will also die. So it was not a question of, why don't you close down the place? It was rather a question of, how do you do this better? This metal can be reused. Trey's group is now building a partnership with Fairphone. Bas van Abel started focusing on the problems of mining these materials on the front end and wound up realizing much more can be done to save what's already been pulled from the earth. The whole energy transition needs all these minerals that are found in mines. So the best thing to do is to make sure that we can get recycled sources, so that we don't get the minerals only from mines, but actually take it back from the products that we already use.

It's all about mining the precious materials we've carelessly cast aside and managing our garbage with less waste. Our commentary comes from journalist Mark Chisano, author of The Fabulist, the saga of disgraced New York Congressman George Santos. 2023 was a season of chaos in the House of Representatives, a cartoon of what a legislative body is supposed to be.

A speaker has not been elected. Through it all, we've had a mascot for the messiness, and his name is George Santos. Embattled Congressman George Santos pleaded not guilty today. Santos is the Republican congressman from New York who made up virtually everything on his resume. Fake Wall Street jobs, fake college credentials, fake volleyball championship. He even told tall tales about being Jewish and saving dogs. And he now stands accused of stealing money from donors. Yet none of this became widely known until after his election.

I think he should be thoroughly investigated. But how did this con man get a seat in Congress? And what made him lie so promiscuously? From the time that he was dressing in drag in Brazil, working in a dreary New York call center, or charting his political rise on Long Island, Santos was skillfully angling for more money and celebrity. But it was the weakness of America's institutions that allowed Santos to go undetected.

Most local media outlets were stretched too thin to expose this fabulous in time. Democrats were overconfident of winning and Republicans shrugged, allowing the newcomer to win and keep his seat for cynical, political and fundraising reasons. It was not surprising that the GOP stuck with Santos for so long, given that the party's leader, Donald Trump, paid no price for his own litany of lies.

It's a scam. Political interference. Santos mimicked Trump's brazen behavior. I'm not here for the cameras. I'm here to support the President of the United States who's being unfairly attacked. Taking advantage of our political moment, which rewards bluster and exaggeration. The reality is, is it's a witch hunt. Santos now says he won't seek re-election and is facing expulsion after a devastating report from the House Ethics Committee.

But the accountability is only beginning for him and for Trump. I'm done with you. In the meantime, Santos' wild and wildly entertaining story is a reminder of what happens when lying becomes a way of life. Thank you for listening. Please join us when our trumpet sounds again next Sunday morning. Hi, everyone. I'm Drew Barrymore, host of, well, The Drew Barrymore Show. And welcome to The Drew Barrymore Show podcast. Stream from the car, the train, the shower. Wait, what?

That doesn't work. Well, you never know. Whatever you're into, just take a moment to see the sunny side of life with us. I can't wait to go on this journey together. Hear the new episodes of The Drew Barrymore Show podcast every day, Monday through Friday. Listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-26 18:07:55 / 2023-11-26 18:27:37 / 20

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