Letters to the editor

Boycott the deadly Shell game

In the past 30 years, Royal Dutch Shell, through its subsidiary Shell Nigeria, has extracted $30 billion worth of oil from Ogoniland, a region surrounding the Niger River delta. … Shell Oil has averaged four oil spills per week and has yearly dumped far greater volumes of oil into the environment than was released by the Exxon Valdez spill.

But Shell has refused to clean up after itself, substantially damaging Ogoni farmlands, [where] rivers are now slicked with oil. … With help from the Nigerian dictatorship, Shell — [the country’s major oil exporter] — has placed oil wells, pumping facilities and high pressure pipelines in the center of villages, showing complete disregard for the inhabitants.

In the early 1990s, author and noted environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa helped found the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, to protest Shell’s socially and environmentally destructive practices. He was so successful in mobilizing the people of the region that local protests and civil unrest led to a [temporary] cessation of drilling operations in the area.

Then came a violent response from the Nigerian military dictatorship. In May 1994, the head of government security called for military operations [that would allow] Shell to recommence drilling: [During that action,] 1,500 Ogonis were killed, 30 villages were burned to the ground, and 20,000 Ogonis were displaced. … Saro-Wiwa and other principal leaders of the movement were arrested, brought before a military court and framed for murder. In spite of international protests from every human-rights organization and most national environmental groups, Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists were hanged to death. …

U.S. Shell has denied any responsibility, pointing the finger at Shell Nigeria. However, both [companies] share a common chairman/president, C.A.J. Herkstroter. They are the same company, no matter what kind of shell game they try to play with names and corporate charters. …

On Sept. 9, Katuah Earth First, a local, direct-action environmental group, [hosted] a peaceful, legal public demonstration, in an ongoing attempt to persuade Shell to start acting as a responsible corporate citizen in Nigeria.

I recently cut my Shell card in half and took a minute to call Jack Little, president of Shell U.S. ((800) 248-4257)), to express my disgust with Shell’s actions in Ogoniland. I also called the White House and asked President Clinton to place an oil embargo on Nigeria until Shell cleans up its environmental mess, the dictatorship is dismantled, and the environmental activists are released from prison [Nineteen Ogoni prisoners were released Sept. 7, according to an AP report — ed.].

I urge other citizens of conscience to join with us in protesting Shell’s corporate callousness and complicity.

— David Thundershield Queen

Big Brother, a.k.a. big corporations

Big corporations, not government, pose the greatest threat to democracy. Corporations prompt us to fear the evils of “big government” and to defend a free-market economy. Meanwhile, they use their power and money to influence legislation, sanitize the news, and compromise our judicial system — all the while promoting public paranoia about big government.

The real truth lies somewhere in between: Government officials are sometimes oppressive, but they can be held accountable; corporations are accountable to no one.

Government officials and legislators must be kept in check and held accountable for their actions — and we are able to do this with our votes and our First Amendment right to free speech, which enable us to reprimand, redirect or throw the bums out.

Corporations are quite another matter, as they are accountable to no one. Their commercial interest controls the media by expunging anything that challenges their supreme position and by stifling the voices of reason. If a story reflects badly on the company or its agenda, they act quickly to see that it is not printed or televised. So, as far as the public knows, the infraction didn’t happen, the water was not polluted, the woman was not unjustly fired.

These injustices don’t just happen in big cities; they are a reality here in Asheville. Last week, on the eve of Labor Day, a group of private citizens staged a public demonstration along Sweeten Creek Road at the Thoms Rehab/Greentree Ridge entrance. [According to the group,] this action was prompted by the firing of a woman with 10 years of dedicated service and a documented stellar job performance. [The group maintains she was] surreptitiously dismissed with a total lack of personal or professional regard, in order to promote a less-qualified, but favored, male employee.

The Asheville Citizen-Times, WLOS-TV and WWNC radio reporters arrived at the demonstration, seemingly eager to get the scoop, and interviewed the protesters and Thoms/Greentree officials. That evening, I watched the evening news, but there was no mention of the demonstration, which mystified me — until the reason appeared on the screen: an advertisement of Asheville’s health-care mogul, the parent company of Greentree Ridge and corporate partner of Thoms Hospital. Not a word appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times about the demonstration; only WWNC radio aired the story. Why?

Clearly, the greatest threat to democracy is the big corporation. They have already become another Big Brother watching over us. Computer technology enables them to learn more about [us] — our health, personal finances, education, political persuasion, health status, what we buy, and who we are — than most of us know about ourselves.

They use this information to influence our thinking, our access to the unvarnished facts, and our buying habits. Nobody is checking them. Many elected officials are muffled because they are beholden to big corporations for campaign funds. The general public, by one means or another, is so indoctrinated that we willingly accept their propaganda as “news” and naively pay them to carry their consumer messages everywhere, from the school lunchroom to the country club.

We need to wake up and smell the coffee … er, the Maxwell House. Big Brother, a.k.a.the big corporation, is watching us.

— Julia T. Hampton

New FDA threat to herbs and supplements

The FDA has done it to us again. They have proposed regulations that would severely limit information about and access to vitamins and herbal and mineral products.

In 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which allows [labels to carry] scientifically based statements about a product’s structure, function and its effects on the body. The act specifies that, as long as supplements don’t claim to diagnose, treat [or] cure … a disease, then the statements are allowable. The act allows such statements as “supports the immune system” and “helps maintain cardiovascular function.”

Now here is the problem: The FDA has, in a recent proposal, redefined what is considered a disease. Under this proposal, old age, menopause and pregnancy would be defined as diseases and, thus, become subject to FDA [authority]. This would allow the FDA to restrict/limit access to herbal and other supplements [for these conditions].

The DSHEA was written with the express purpose of giving consumers more information and choice, as far as dietary supplements are concerned. But these new FDA proposals would, in fact, increase the FDA’s regulatory control over dietary supplements. This is in direct contradiction to the DSHEA’s purpose and would only take away choice from the public.

The FDA is open to comments on this issue, but they must be submitted by Sept. 25. I urge all of you to write to your congressional representatives, as well as the FDA, at: Dockets Management Branch (HFA-305), Food & Drug Administration (Attn: Docket #98N-0044), c/o Michael Friedman, M.D., Lead Deputy Commissioner, 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville MD 20857-0001. Or fax to (301) 827-6870

— Errol Erener

Vermin or treasure, Mr. Beatty?

The following is in response to Doug Beatty’s letter to the editor [Sept. 2].

As long as we draw boundaries between “us and them” and continue to make choices based in fear, we will never grow in love. I see no difference between Mr. Beatty and someone who is satisfied with only two or three trees in the forest. Without diversity, we are dead — both spiritually and as a species.

Downtown excites me. When I moved here in 1990, there was nothing going on at all. Now, only eight years later, downtown Asheville is vibrant — due, not in small part, to the very vermin Mr. Beatty decries.

I lived in Boulder, Colo., during the middle ’70, when they embarked on a bold process: They closed six blocks of the main street, bricked it over, and created an open-air, downtown mall. Now, 20 years later, the mall is more successful than ever (despite dire warnings of dismal failure at the onset). They [had to make] a conscious choice at the time, to either encourage or discourage a street scene. They chose to encourage street musicians, artists, craft vendors and, yes, even mimes. By nurturing this creativy, their downtown businesses are wildly successful. I suspect if Mr. Beatty were to walk down the Boulder Mall, he would find LOTS of vermin.

It’s a sad thing that Mr. Beatty can’t look at those different than himself and feel compassion, at the very least. If he could lose his judgmental stance and allow compassion to inform him, instead of fear, he might just discover that each person is a unique, irreplaceable treasure.

— Amy Mozingo

Honor the honesty of hemp advocates

In regards to the [Aug. 11 and 25] actions of the Asheville City Council in dealing with the pro-cannabis/hemp/marijuana group: I find [Council members’] actions typical of a confused and misdirected government.

When these citizens stand in a public and televised forum and bear witness in this world today to what they know in their hearts to be true, they deserve [Council’s] time and attention. These are voters, taxpayers, business owners, productive citizens of our society. Yes, they are peaceful, but peaceful does not just mean the absence of war — peace also means being grounded in nonviolence as well.

Our society, as a whole, has become so emotionally dishonest that when faced with openly honest people who are not only reasonable, but sensible, we react with shock. Typically, law-enforcement officers react with intimidation and [violate] citizen and human rights, thereby traumatizing the very citizens they are sworn to protect.

I honestly wish that law-enforcement officers would attend to their jobs according to the priority factor. When these tax-paid individuals are sworn in, their first and foremost duty is to serve and protect the citizens and their rights, according to state and federal constitutions. Their next priority is violent offenses. The last order of business is the invasion of personal liberties. And I wish they would learn the basic civil and human rights of the citizens whom they swear to protect.

I truly hope — as more and more brave and enlightened citizens stand up and speak the truth — that our local, state and federal governments can make amends, as a nation, for the grievous harms they have done and are still doing to their own citizens.

The cannabis/hemp plant can provide all that human beings need to survive — and can do so without harming our Mother Earth. The spiritual light of unending truth is shining, and truth will set us free as a people and a nation. As more and more of these brave citizens stand up, we begin to share the truth with all our sisters and brothers.

The government may still be in the dark, but the citizens of this country are enlightened to the truth, and change is in the wind.

God and Mother Nature made the cannabis/hemp plant for human use. Human evolution and the evolution of the cannabis plant are deeply intertwined throughout time. As human beings are evolving, so is awareness of the ability of the cannabis plant to save this planet from toxic destruction.

To those brave citizens who are taking the issue … to their local government, we applaud you. For all of us who are sensible realize that the behavior of law enforcement against your group is only the dying tremors of a defunct system.

To all elected officials, I would like to say: Beware, the voting public will not stand for power plays by the people they vote into office anymore. Try being kind for a change.

— Jean Marlowe
Mill Springs

Lying: an American pandemic

The recent letters to the editor alleging police brutality and arrogance, and lies by the clean-air people, are deeply disturbing.

Law Enforcement News is published by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. It devotes two or three pages of each issue to items of interest to law-enforcement officials across the nation: promotions, awards, officers killed, unusual crimes, unusual busts.

Also included are law-enforcement personnel of all ranks who, themselves, have committed crimes. In 10 1998 issues, I counted 729 individual items. Of these, 210 were about dirty cops.

Besides these small items, regular articles relate [other scandals]: the arrest of dozens of officers from northeast Ohio; “a criminal enterprise disguised as a New Jersey police department” (in which the chief and eight officers were indicted for racketeering); “big-time crime …. big-time corruption involving police and town officials” in Cicero, Ill. In Washington, D.C., one-third of the city’s officers were accused of misconduct last year. New recruits are now polygraphed, and integrity checks are done on all commanders above the rank of captain.

Police commissioners and officials across the country have been caught lying and doctoring reports and test scores. Between 1994 and 1997, 508 officers in 47 cities were convicted for federal corruption-related charges, according to FBI data. Of course, there was fiddling in the FBI lab, too! I don’t have the statistics for state-prosecuted crimes.

This is not about cop-bashing. It is about a system that promotes and condones corrupt behavior and punishes those who speak out against it.

“The blue wall of silence” is the term used when cops, at all levels, close ranks to minimize, coverup or lie about wrongdoing to protect a colleague. In New York, the feds are looking at perjury charges against three officers in a blue-wall-of-silence case.

I have personally witnessed supervisors and officials lying through their teeth while under oath. At least two of the supervisors were later promoted in rank.

A fascinating, frightening book dealing with the dangers to society posed by lying is Lying by Sissela Bok (Vintage Books). For me, the most profound statement of the book is: “When political representatives or entire governments arrogate to themselves the right to lie, they take power from the public that would not have been given up voluntarily.”

Lying has become such a serious problem that the Massachusetts School of Law published an entire issue of its prestigious journal The Long Term View on “Lying: An American Pandemic.” From that, I learned that persons who are extroverted and persons who possess high levels of communications skill are more successful deceivers than introverts or individuals who are not polished communicators. Recently, our commander-in-chief, President Bill Clinton, has given the world a perfect textbook example of that.

The above two publications should be required reading for all public servants/officials and politicians.

I don’t have a solution, but I do know the time is past when we can automatically believe anything a public servant/official or politician tells us. I don’t believe there are enough individuals who haven’t compromised their ethics and morals right out of existence to make a difference. And I’m not too sure there are enough citizens who really give a good rat’s ass.

— Ann Ryder
Mars Hill

Be kind to immigrants

Thank you, Mountain Xpress, for Marsha Barber’s excellent, thorough article [“Foreigner, go home!” Sept. 2], on what many of our local foreign-born residents are dealing with, in addition to the regular challenges all of us face.

Despite the many myths about this population … I have found [that most immigrants] are very hard-working, warm, generous, respectful of others, positive and highly motivated — in spite of having so many limits put on them, and despite having so much on their plates!

As a teacher, a committee member and a friend, I have been involved with our local internationals. I’m continuously impressed with these people. Please help them feel welcome here, even by offering a friendly face. Please remember: We all have immigrants to this country in our ancestry.

— Geri Solomon
International Link
(Asheville’s international community center)

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