Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Shaping Perception at the New York Times

I love my iPhone 6! When I got it and the IOS update that goes along with it, one of the best new apps I got with it was News. It amalgamates the top stories from a long list of news sources that I select. It saves me lots of time from reading across several platforms to get my news. That way, I'm not always in the progressive/liberal echo chamber that us progressives tend to build for ourselves. A steady diet of NYT, Huffington Post, NPR et al. does not make for a well rounded mind, I admit. So now, I also get news from WSJ, Bloomberg and Reuters. It's my idea of a Fair & Balanced approach to the news. Although I still can't bring myself to include Fox News in the con argument.

So, it was with great interest that I read this morning in a report by Azam Ahmed in the New York Times that, "the huge boom in poppy production that began a dozen years ago was strongly identified with the Taliban,... through which the militants bought their bullets, bombs and vehicles".

But, if you have any kind of memory at all,  and I'll admit that mine is sorely tested every day by my age - 61 - and... other variables, you'll remember that the self-same newspaper printed, in May of 2001, that the UN reported the, "first American narcotics experts to go to Afghanistan under Taliban rule have concluded that the movement's ban on opium-poppy cultivation appears to have wiped out the world's largest crop in less than a year".

They extensively quote Steven Casteel, an assistant administrator for intelligence at the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington at the time, reporting that he, "was still studying aerial images to determine if any new poppy-growing areas had emerged. He also said that some questions about the size of hidden opium and heroin stockpiles near the northern border of Afghanistan remained to be answered. But the drug agency has so far found nothing to contradict United Nations reports" that the Taliban had successfully eradicated all poppy farming in one season.

The story goes on to laud the methods of the Taliban in achieving the ban. "James P. Callahan, director of Asian affairs at the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs who was one of the experts sent to Afghanistan, described in an interview how the Taliban had applied and enforced the ban. He was told by farmers that 'the Taliban used a system of consensus-building.' They framed the ban 'in very religious terms,' citing Islamic prohibitions against drugs, and that made it hard to defy, he added."

But "a dozen years ago" was 2004. What was going on in 2004? Well, the price of Kandahar Province opium had dropped from a peak high of $700US per kilo in September 2001, to $176US in September 2004, after dipping as low as $120US in the summer of 2004.

Now, let's see... What was different in Afghanistan in 2004 from 2001. Oh, right! We invaded.

And in the years since we invaded, opium production has increased year after year after year. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan produced 200 metric tons of opium in 2001 during the Taliban's ban, and 4,200 metric tons in 2004. And the top producing province in the country in 2004 was Nangarhar Province. Wikipedia says, "after the removal of the Taliban government and the formation of the Karzai administration in late 2001, US-led Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) gradually established authority across the province".

Now, go back to the statement that got me off the couch and Googling for what I knew to be true this morning: "The huge boom in poppy production that began a dozen years ago was strongly identified with the new Taliban insurgency, as the means through which the militants bought their bullets, bombs and vehicles."

This is how it's done; Shaping Perception. You wait until some years have passed, and then you begin a dialogue where you say, over and over again, what you want the new facts to be; that the opium problem pouring out of Afghanistan is one perpetrated on us by the merciless fanatics in the Taliban, Al Queda and ISIS. That it is them profiting off the deaths of our children by creating a narco state in parts of Afghanistan. You say it even though there are hundreds of credible reports littering the internet that contradict this transparent lie, and then shrug your shoulders and shake your head and mumble "conspiracy nut" when folks like me come along and point out that this Emperor Has No Clothes.

Since 2001 American policy has been to leave the poppy fields alone. Anyone who has looked at newspapers or the internet in the last 15 years has to admit to the ubiquitous nature of photos of American and Afghan military patroling through and around these poppy fields with strict orders not to interfere in any way with opium production. 

As recently as 2013, Wired magazine reported, "Lt. Christopher Gackstatter... and his roughly dozen riflemen and machine gunners are mindful of the many poppy-related prohibitions, developed over 12 painful years of war, that have been passed down to their Bravo Company by the higher unit, 3-41 Infantry, part of the Texas-based 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division. They’re not allowed to actually step foot in Sartok’s many acres of poppy fields or damage the fields in any way. They can’t even threaten to destroy the fields or send in Afghan troops to burn, plow under or poison the delicate, pastel-colored flowers. Nor can they discourage poppy farmers, however gently, from growing their illicit crop, which is hardier and commands a higher price than alternatives such as wheat."

The 2013 report from the same UN Office of Drugs and Crime cited earlier states that opium production had grown to 5,500 metric tons.

6,400 metric tons in 2014.

3,300 metric tons in 2015, a decrease the report admits is due mainly to "the availability of improved technology [that] led to a major improvement in the methodology used to estimate area under poppy cultivation. The changes affected all 12 provinces", further stating, "the actual extent of the change needs to be taken with caution as some of it may be due to methodological changes. The low production is a result of a reduction in area under cultivation, but more importantly of a reduction in opium yield per hectare... Reports from the field... pointed towards a lack of water, which may have affected field quality and thus yields. This has been confirmed by satellite imagery and field photographs from the Western and Southern regions, which showed overall poor quality of the fields (low plant density)."

It would appear from all of this that the only entities that have had any success reducing the size of the opium harvest have been the Soviet Union, the Taliban, and Mother Nature. 

The U. S., not so much. So I'll continue to deny the New York Times' version of The Truth about who is letting all the heroin proliferate in our world. It ain't the Taliban, folks.

It's US.

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