404: Information Missing From Your Daily News
Summaries of under-reported news, short updates on previous Monitor stories
The fuss began September 20, when the National Labor Committee released a new report on El Salvador sweatshops where women work in abysmal conditions to sew Kathie Lee clothes and other garment lines sold by Wal-Mart and Kmart. Workers are paid below subsistence level for working up to 20 hour shifts, have no sick leave, must pay for pregnancy tests required by the company, and are subject to constant abuse, according to the findings.
Readers may recall our 1996 series, Santa's Little Sweatshop, which described how Gifford claimed to be "wiped out and devastated" over disclosure that clothes sold under her name were made in sweatshops in Honduras and just blocks from the studio where she appears daily. Gifford pledged to fight sweatshops everywhere in several high-profile phot-ops with President Clinton and other leaders. But less than a year later, investigators raided three Manhattan sweatshops where her clothing line was made.
Making the announcement about the newest batch of sweatshop discoveries was Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Committee and well-known in 1996 as the man "who made Kathie Lee Gifford cry."
"I have a signed agreement by Kathie Lee stating that she would never again tolerate sweatshop conditions and that she would open them up for inspection by local religious and human rights leaders," said Kernaghan in a press release. "None of these promises have been kept."
Kernaghan said that neither Kathie Lee or actress Jaclyn Smith, who has a clothing line made in the same sweatshops, responded to workers' requests for meetings. "These two American celebrities have reaped millions from the sweat and toil of women in third world countries around the globe. They can afford these workers the dignity of at least hearing their complaints. We know from past experience that Kathie Lee will do little about abusive factory conditions, but at least hearing these workers out is within her control," said Kernaghan.
It was also predictable that Gifford would fight back with her own PR spin. At the September 22 National Labor Committee news conference her husband shouted down Kernaghan, according to the New York Daily News, the only newspaper that reported these events. "I resent what you have done to my wife," Frank Gifford confronted the labor activist. "You have assassinated her character." He complained that the criticism had driven their children to tears. Kernaghan later told reporters that her husband was on the same New York to D.C. flight and had tried to intimidate him.
Then in a 15-minute tirade the next day on "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee," Gifford herself addressed the issue to her nationwide audience. Her company has thousands of employees and she gives $1 million annually to charities. She has helped 250 disadvantaged children. "I'm looking around and I'm thinking I'm the only one who is trying to do the right thing... If I get so fed up with these vicious personal attacks against my integrity and my character, and I say, finally, 'You know what? Enough, let someone else take over this battle,'" she told viewers, as the studio audience applauded. "I would gladly, gladly give up my clothing line gladly, but I have a responsibility."
Gifford had an interview scheduled with the New York Daily News for the same day, but cancelled because she wanted to wait "until she has collected all the facts," a spokesperson told the Daily News.
Asked whether he would apologize to Kathi Lee, Kernaghan told the Daily News, "Oh no, never. This isn't a personal thing. Wal-Mart owes an apology to these workers they have locked in factories around the world." Nor did he express much pity for the Gifford's plight. "It's not nice to have people make fun of you," he said. "But she still comes home to a mansion in Connecticut, and they're doing just fine." (October 31, 1999)
Despite such nonsense, the nay-sayers are winning the war. It is increasingly unlikely that Congress will ratify the Kyoto treaty. If the treaty fails, it will not just be because the voice of ignorance was loudest -- some blame will go to the enviros for not aggressively entering the debate. Not that it never happens; in a June demonstration, fifty indignant scientists lambasted members of Congress who think that global warming remains only a theory (see MONITOR article). But more often, "experts" from those conservative think-tanks are heard unchallenged.
Rarely heard in the press are discussions about the fundamental science, such as what happens to all that troublesome carbon dioxide. Much of it is being absorbed in the earth and living plants, but the process is poorly understood. (See MONITOR feature, "The Breathing Earth" for more background.) It is a key issue; if carbon dioxide will always magically fizzle away as society continues to churn it out in great quantity, there's little threat in global warming. But if there's some kind of upward limit in how much C02 the planet can handle, then there's big trouble indeed.
All of the evidence points to the big-trouble scenario, and there is an air of desperation about some of the solutions being proposed -- particularly now that (we should assume) the Kyoto Treaty is D.O.A.
Last month, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dashed hopes on plans to suck up carbon by planting lots and lots of new trees. The U.S. in particular had plans to (someday real soon now) plant "carbon forests" that would allow us to pollute almost indefinitely. But as reported in the MONITOR in 1995, it was an absurd hope from the start; researchers already predicted that U.S. forests would reach their carbon absorption limit in about twenty years.
But the most desperate scheme comes from a researcher at the United States Geological Survey, who suggested last month that atmospheric carbon can be pumped underground into aquifers, depleted oil reservoirs, the deep oceans, and unmineable coal beds. "Depleted oil and gas reservoirs can be thought of as empty containers that could be filled with carbon dioxide," said Dr. Robert Burruss of the USGS. This completely theoretical idea would require the creation of an industry nearly twice the size of the current natural gas industry, he conceded, and would still buy us only twenty more years of leeway to pollute freely.
So what does that leave us? Governments and bankers have raced to endorse emissions trading, where one country buys pollution quotas from another country. The buyers are affluent Western nations, of course, and the sellers are Third World countries that are often desperate to reduce their debt to these richest nations. While it's absurd to propose that (say) Chicago industries could pollute the air freely for six months by purchasing the smoggy air quota of (say) rural Botswana, halfway around the world, that seems to be only pathetic hope for any C02 control whatsoever. (November 11, 1999)
It's produced by the "Alliance for Better Foods," a brand-new coalition of big agribusiness and processed food special interest groups that includes the American Meat Institute, Snack Food Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Soft Drink Association, and about two dozen others. Why didn't the Organic Growers Association join? Maybe they were put off by the cheap references to biotech opponents being "radical" and "rabid" environmentalists, which can be found in the news section at this site.
Typical of industry disinformation, they conceal and evade the real issues:
In their October 7 press release announcing the site, the Grocery Manufacturers of America spun a classic example of twisted Orwellian logic, to wit: Because the FDA does not require the food industry to label biotech foods, and because the FDA's mandate is (supposed to be) consumer protection, the industry's failure to label biotech food "can be viewed as a pro-consumer policy." (Got that?) If this doubletalk sounds familiar, then you might remember a 404 item in January about the EPA pesticide brochure, when some of the same players forced the Agency to drop words like "harmful" in the pamphlet.
While the Alliance apparently hopes that pictures of giggly children will sway the public, it's counting on hard cold cash to sway legislators. According to a report by the Center for Responsive Politics, Alliance members have spent more than $676,000 in soft money, PAC and individual contributions to members of Congress, 83 percent to Republicans -- and that's just in the first nine months of this year. As the report notes, that's just the beginning; businesses belonging to those groups that make up the Alliance gave a whopping $43.3 million in campaign contributions last year. Now throw in another $6 million from non-Alliance biotech companies like Monsanto and there's some serious money on the table. (November 16, 1999)
But it was still shocking to read the October report from researchers that 42 million Americans -- about 1 out of 6 -- drink groundwater vulnerable to low-level contamination by volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are caused by a variety of products, including gasoline, paints, plastics and solvents. The gasoline additive MTBE was among the "most frequently detected VOCs in urban and rural areas," according to the report.
The study -- which will be published next month in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology -- is the first national examination of drinking water aquifers. It tested nearly 3,000 wells and found the greatest danger was in the Eastern U.S., particularly New England. The more dense the population, the greater the VOC pollution, they discovered . No surprise there, as MONITOR reported in a 1997 report on how pollutants wash out of the suburbs during storms. Even in a small urban metropolis such as Santa Rosa, California, almost two tons of chromium washes off of cars every year, along with about 74,000 pounds of suburban lawn fertilizer.
The health risk of long-term exposure to volatile organic compounds is unknown, and chlorination, the most common water treatment in municipal areas, generally does not reduce VOC contamination. At least those water systems have other treatment means such as aeration, which can help; private wells in rural areas have none of those alternatives. (November 4, 1999)
In early September, a Manhattan jury gave up on deciding tax fraud charges against Hirschfeld, and the 79 year-old millionaire immediately handed each juror a check for $2,500. Almost all of them accepted the money, which was completely within the law. Legal experts were appalled. "If Hirschfeld can do this, then organized crime can do it even more effectively," Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University, told the New York Times. He noted that Hirschfeld wanted to double that amount for a holdout juror.
Then on October 26, another City jury also deadlocked on deciding whether Hirschfeld had tried to hire a hitman to kill his partner. This time, he only smiled broadly to the jury, although his wife kissed reporters.
Hirschfeld followed up by calling himself "a man of the people" and announcing his bid for Independence Party nomination. While campaigning for the Senate, he will travel the state in a a 35-foot mobile home. (October 28, 1999)
Albion Monitor Issue 68 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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