Nygaard Notes> Independent Periodic News and Analysis Number 497, December 14, 2011

Nygaard Notes
Independent Periodic News and Analysis
Number 497, December 14, 2011

This Week:  A Stroll Through the News with Nygaard

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1.  “Quote” of the Week: “The global war on drugs has failed…” 
2.  Steve Jobs in China
3.  News for the One Percent
4.  “War on Drugs” Ever More Warlike
5.  Fracking and the “Overwhelmed, Understaffed Inspectors”

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Greetings,

It’s December in Minnesota and it’s raining.  Go figure.

Soggily yours,

Nygaard

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1. “Quote” of the Week: 

“The global war on drugs has failed…”

The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world….  [World leaders should work to] begin the transformation of the global drug prohibition regime.  Replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights.

This statement is from an almost-completely-ignored June 2nd report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the “most distinguished group of high-level leaders to ever call for such far-reaching changes.”  The Commission’s members include such radicals as Ernesto Zedillo, former President of México; Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil; George Shultz, former Secretary of State, USA; Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the U.N,; Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve; and lots more.

OK, I’ve just got to include a few of the Commission’s recommendations.  They recommend that we:

* “End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.

*  “Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs (especially cannabis) to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.

*  “Apply human rights and harm reduction principles and policies both to people who use drugs as well as those involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers.”

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2.  Steve Jobs in China

My search of major media for references to the death of Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs yielded over 1,100 articles.  Not surprising, I suppose, since his impact in the technology industry and thus on everyday life in the United States was enormous.  But one aspect of the coverage was surprising, and that was something that was missing.  I re-did my search for articles with the words “Steve Jobs” and “death,” but this time I added a word which reduced my search results from over 1,100 articles to… twelve.  That word is “Shenzhen.”

Shenzhen is a city in southern China, not far from Hong Kong, in Guangdong Province.  It’s the home of a Taiwanese-owned company called Foxconn that makes, among other things, iPhones and iPads.  Here’s a glimpse of how Apple operates in Shenzhen:

“Workers at Longhua and other Foxconn plants in China work under grueling conditions—usually 10 to 12 hours a day, sometimes for seven days straight without overtime pay.  They’re not allowed to speak to each other on the job or to leave their workstations—not even to go to the bathroom—without permission from guards.  Some of them perform repetitive tasks for up to 10 hours at a time without a break.  Supervisors berate workers with foul language and warn that if they fall behind on production they will be replaced.  Some have reportedly been beaten for mistakes they allegedly made on the assembly line.  For all this they earn a little more than a dollar an hour at most.

“Of working conditions at one Foxconn plant making iPhones, [Hong Kong-based human rights group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior] concluded: ‘Workers frequently endure excessive and forced overtime in order to gain a higher wage…’ SACOM calls Foxconn’s Apple workers ‘iSlaves.’”

The above two paragraphs are from a November 16th article called “As Apple Grew, American Workers Left Behind” on the “What Went Wrong” website.

Conditions are so bad at the Foxconn plants that there have been an unusually high number of suicides of workers there, which Bloomberg Businessweek says “may be a price of turning out low-price, high-quality goods.”  Bloomberg adds that “Foxconn says it’s taking other steps to get the situation under control.  It has installed netting around outdoor stairwells of dormitory buildings to prevent people from jumping.”

For more on this, visit the website of Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) or China Labor Watch.  Or try googling: Mike Daisey “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.”

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3.  News for the One Percent

The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which provides some of the funding for the Public Broadcasting Service.  In the Act it is stated that “it is in the public interest to encourage the development of programming that involves creative risks and that addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences, particularly children and minorities.”

With that in mind, consider a story from the inside pages of the Business Section of the New York Times of November 7th, headlined “‘NewsHour’ Changes Raise Questions at PBS.”

The Times reports that the PBS Newshour is losing staff at an alarming rate, including most recently its political editor and its managing editor for digital news.  Adds the Times, “the departures, announced last week, come on top of other changes at the show’s parent, MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, where in recent months both the president and the head of fund-raising and marketing left for other jobs.”

Then comes the revealing news: “In addition, the show’s main corporate underwriter, Chevron, will bow out at the end of the year, leaving a hole of just over $2 million in the $27 million annual budget.”

CPB supplies about 14 percent of the money for PBS.  The total of public funding for PBS comes to about 40 percent.  That is, 60 percent of the money for the so-called Public Broadcasting Service comes not from the public, but from private sources like Chevron.  And Chevron has its own reasons for investing—or not investing—in the Newshour, as we read in a later paragraph:

“Brent Tippen, a Chevron spokesman, when asked about ending the underwriting after four years, said in an e-mail: ‘We constantly review which media we use to reach our target audience given our yearly budget and specific goals.’”,’ adding that ‘we hope that we will be able to partner with them again at some point in the future.’”  That is, if PBS makes sure to reach the right “target audience.”  Is Chevron’s target audience likely to be “unserved and underserved audiences, particularly children and minorities”?

As for the rest of the money that PBS needs to have in order to serve the unserved, the Times tells us that “A long-planned effort to raise money from wealthy supporters, which was to start last month, has been delayed until the new president of the production company starts in January.”

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4.  “War on Drugs” Ever More Warlike

In the same issue of the Times as the one that reported on PBS (November 7th), there was another amazing story, this one on the front page.  “D.E.A. Squads Extend Reach Of Drug War” read the headline, and it reported that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is now making use of military-trained commando squads that “it has been quietly deploying for the past several years to Western Hemisphere nations—including Haiti, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Belize” to help with the War on Drugs.”

“Begun in 2005, the [commando] program has five squads, each with 10 agents.  Many are military veterans, and the section is overseen by a former member of the Navy Seals, Richard Dobrich.  The Pentagon has provided most of their training and equipment, and they routinely fly on military aircraft.”

The story continues, “The evolution of the program into a global enforcement arm reflects the United States’ growing reach in combating drug cartels and how policy makers increasingly are blurring the line between law enforcement and military activities, fusing elements of the ‘war on drugs’ with the ‘war on terrorism.’”

The article notes that “some countries that have sought the assistance of the United States will not acknowledge it, and the D.E.A. is reluctant to disclose the details of the commando teams’ deployments.”  One must ask here: If they won’t acknowledge it, then how does the Times know about it?

The official silence, says the Times, is “Because the presence of armed Americans on their soil raises sensitivities about sovereignty.”  I suspect that is putting it mildly, as you may guess if you imagine the “sensitivities” that might be raised if we were to see armed Russians stationed in, say, Chicago.

The Times reports that the D.E.A. “has twice come close to deploying one of its units to the Darien region of Panama… But both missions were aborted, for fears that it was too unsafe for the Americans or that their involvement could escalate the conflict.”

By acknowledging that military action against drug dealers “could escalate the conflict,” the Times at least hints at the main, and unreported story, which was summarized by “a veteran Texas police officer” who recently told the New York Times “We all know the drug war is a bad joke.”  The officer is no doubt aware that our policy of drug prohibition increases crime, unfairly imprisons tens of thousands, has no effect on drug use or addiction, and costs a fortune in the process.  A bad joke, indeed, and not a funny one.

Still, the power of the elite consensus behind the War on Drugs was evident in October of 2009, when U.S. border patrol agent Bryan Gonzalez was fired for daring to say to his colleague Shawn Montoya that  “legalization of drugs would end the drug war and related violence in Mexico.”  His unlawful termination lawsuit is pending, and the war goes on.

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5.  Fracking and the “Overwhelmed, Understaffed Inspectors”

On page three of my local newspaper on December 9th was a story headlined “EPA Suggests Fracking-pollution Link.”  “Fracking” is short for “hydraulic fracturing,” which the investigative group ProPublica tells us is “a process used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States, where millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart the rock and release the gas.”

The problem with this, as reported by the Scripps Howard News Service, is that fracking “is a growing threat to water supplies in 28 states, say scientists, landowners and environmentalists.”  The oil and gas industry, as one might imagine, “has long contended that fracking is safe.”

According to ProPublica the E.P.A. officials “today scientifically linked underground water pollution with hydraulic fracturing, concluding that contaminants found in central Wyoming were likely caused by the gas drilling process.”  Amy Mall, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Bloomberg news in an interview that, in terms of the debate about the effects of fracking on the environment, the report is “a game-changer.”

Part of what’s remarkable about the EPA study—and should have moved it from the third page of the paper to the first—is that it came out at all.  It’s not the first study the E.P.A. has done on the subject.  According to a 2004 New York Times article, “An early draft of [a 2004 E.P.A. study] discussed potentially dangerous levels of contamination in hydrofracking fluids and mentioned ‘possible evidence’ of contamination of an aquifer.”  However, added the Times, “The report’s final version excluded these points, concluding instead that hydrofracking ‘poses little or no threat to drinking water.’”

That final version has served the industry well.  The Scripps Howard News Service in November of 2010 mentions that “Industry groups and regulators … cite a 2004 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study that found no evidence that frack drilling pollutes water wells.”

This month’s E.P.A. report seems to back up that “early draft” from 2004 that was kept from the public.  And why was it kept from the public?  Well, according to a report in the New York Times on March 3rd of this year, “Shortly after the [2004] study was released, an E.P.A. whistle-blower said the agency had been strongly influenced by industry and political pressure.”  The whistle-blower, Weston Wilson, “explained that five of the seven members of that study’s peer review panel were current or former employees of the oil and gas industry.”

I don’t know why the E.P.A. was able to report the facts this time, unlike in 2004.  I could speculate, but instead I’ll simply suggest that this might be a question that the media could pursue.  They haven’t yet, it seems.  Rolling Stone magazine, in a special report in February of this year, noted that “As research deepens our understanding of fracking’s environmental impacts, the incidents continue to pile up,” although “Most of these fracking spills do not make headlines.”

And Scripps Howard explains that at least a part of the reason why the “incidents” keep piling up is that “Overwhelmed, understaffed state inspectors aren’t keeping up with the booming industry.”

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