Sunday, March 31, 2013

JP MORGAN, the UN and the US, and 243,000 Jobs

JPMORGAN Chase and Credit Suisse recently agreed to settlements with the Securities and Exchange Commission totaling $417 million over their packaging and sale of troubled mortgage securities to investors. The settlements are the latest major penalties extracted by the agency in a broad-reaching investigation into how Wall Street firms bundled mortgages into complex investments in the run-up to the financial crisis. Check this out: JPMorgan Chase has a net income of $3.7 billion for the fourth quarter of 2011, compared with $4.8 billion for the fourth quarter of 2010. Credit Suisse's net income attributable to shareholders is $1,953 million; total revenue, $41.9 billion.

IN 2006, the United Nations asked the United States how it would meet its obligations under a treaty to enforce the international law against torture. The State Department said American law provides redress, including by allowing plaintiffs to sue “federal officials directly for damages under provisions of the US Constitution.” These obligations, however, were rendered null as a US appeals court rules weeks ago that American civilians who are tortured by the American military cannot recover damages from the people responsible. The paradox is, foreign citizens can sue foreign officials under American law. Americans can sue foreign officials. But in the Seventh Circuit, covering Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, Americans are the only citizens who have no remedy under American law against American officials allegedly responsible for torture.

THE Labor Department has recently trumpeted a net 243,000 jobs added to the market, dropping unemployment rate to 8.3 percent. Good news? About 43 percent of the nation's nearly 13 million unemployed have been without work for more than six months. But then, few days after, Washington announced that unemployed workers would no longer be able to claim 99 weeks of benefit checks by this summer under a deal being worked out in Congress. So people—get off the couch, and start looking for those 243,000 jobs before they all fly away to Guangzhou province…

THE number of trackers collecting data on users' activities on the most popular Web sites in the US has significantly increased in the last five months, according to research from the University of California, Berkeley, called the "Web Privacy Census." This comes at a time of fierce debate among federal regulators, advertising associations and consumer advocates over how best to regulate online tracking. The irony is, the more humanity gets paranoid about meeting people offline and engage in eye-to-eye or “primitive” manner of interaction, the more we bare ourselves to the world online. Employers, government agencies, jealous partners, and plain hackers tracking us down come as mild.
NATIONWIDE polls have shown that a clear majority of Americans want to know if the food they are purchasing contains GMOs (genetically modified organisms). California’s Proposition 37, which would have provided for mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods, recently failed 45 to 55 percent... Makes me think. Ponder. Most “health” food companies are now being devoured—or bought out—by “unhealthy” food companies... Hence recent “researches” sort of rationalize certain chemically-induced food products as “healthy”--which is a no-brainer since these studies are funded by the same giant food manufacturers. So what is there to believe in? We all go back to gut level, we don't rely on the next person what we should put in our mouths. We should know, it's our body. Common sense.
IN the first three months of 2012, the number of borrowers of student loans age 60 and older was 2.2 million, a figure that has tripled since 2005. These borrowers owed $43 billion, up from $8 billion seven years ago. Almost 10 percent of the borrowers over 60 were at least 90 days delinquent on their payments during the first quarter of 2012. These older borrowers were either taking out loans for their own education or that of their children. Whatever the case, it is sad to know that education in the world's most powerful nation is hard to come by—while many countries boast free college and/or post-secondary education to citizens. Some of these “free education” countries include Argentina, Cuba, Brazil, Greece, and Norway, and even poor nations like Sri Lanka and Kenya.

THERE will be a time when all corporations are owned by probably two rival conglomerates. Yes, just like a sci-fi movie... With the way things are going, that “future” may come sooner as we probably envisioned it. Mergers and buy-outs are prevalent in the past 15 years. Locally, there's Wells Fargo gobbling up Wachovia via bail-out money. Then PNC Bank taking over RCB, and made client service worse... A month ago, Kayak Software has been devoured by its main rival,, a travel company from an earlier Internet age—for $1.8 billion in cash and stock. Heard of a new idealistic organic, handcrafted, or environmentally-sensitive outfit? Wait till the Big Dude snap them up!

ACCORDING to Lester Brown's book, "Full Planet, Empty Plates," we're on the verge of producing too little food to feed the planet. He cited these reasons: Falling water tables, particularly in the three biggest food producers: the United States, India and China; global warming-driven increases in temperatures and drought that reduce crop yield, as was dramatically the case here in the United States this summer; slowdown in grain-productivity increases derived from technology breakthroughs, as new advances appear less powerful than the previous round; growing population in the poorer countries; soil erosion, in large part from overgrazing; the conversion of food stocks -- largely corn -- into biofuel for cars; rising grain demand as people around the globe move up the food chain to middle-class diets with more meat and poultry; and overfishing of many of the world's fisheries. All true. But Mr Brown failed to cite another huge reason: We waste a lot of food.

DESPITE the fact that President Barack Obama has lauded entrepreneurship, innovation and “job creation,” his government hasn't made comprehensive immigration reforms, so far... Some 70 million immigrants have come to America since the first colonists arrived. Their labor has played a huge role in economic development... Three most important architects at the beginning of America's road to prosperity were immigrants: Alexander Hamilton, from St. Croix, then part of the Danish West Indies; Robert Morris, born in Liverpool, England; and Albert Gallatin of Geneva. These days, a huge number of Asian and Hispanic immigrants are leading the development of fields like movies and information technology: the Hollywood studios MGM, Warner Brothers, United Artists, Paramount and Universal; the Silicon Valley companies Intel, eBay, Google, Yahoo and Sun Microsystems.

FREE market capitalism—an economic system that includes private ownership of the means of production, creation of goods or services for profit or income etc—is a hallmark of American democracy. It is also, in so many ways, western capitalism’s conscience… One time, I watched an Anderson Cooper show that featured people who sell murder/murderers’ stuff and things online in deference to victims and their families’ emotional well-being. Most resist this blatant insensitivity to human pain, but how do we stop it? Free enterprise apparently disregards human sensitivity on its way to "accumulation of capital, competitive markets, voluntary exchange, and wage labor."

FLOWING fire pits, glass portholes, vanishing edges, lawn sprinklers, and Bellagio’s dancing fountains. We in America use an average of 147 gallons of water each day. In Las Vegas, it’s 227 gallons per person—in one of the most water-scarce metro areas of the US. When I spent time in a village in India, water was sacred. Water feed the earth that feeds us. When I was a kid, I used to gather rainwater and then boil them for bathing and washing dishes… Hoover Dam’s reservoir Lake Mead supplies water to millions of Americans and another million acres of farmland. Question: When will Lake Mead go dry? Climate scientist David Pierce says there’s a 50-50 chance it will happen by 2021.

FOR the first time in many years, North Carolinians’ garbage disposal rate dropped from 322,738 tons in 2006-07 to 224,529 tons last year. We are getting more environmentally conscious, looking for ways not to land-fill materials… However, the bigger picture is—domestic overproduction and over-importation of goods and stuff. The percentage of consumers acquiring more outnumbers those who recycle or under-consume. The utmost concern—is how to lessen carbon footprints or greenhouse gas emissions from production and consumption of food, fuels, goods, materials etc. Are we ready to sacrifice a week of not using a vehicle, or shut off electricity for 24 hours straight?

AFGHANISTAN, a dark patch of dense geography? Could be—it is also wealthy. The country generates about $10 billion per year from its mineral deposits. For starters, 1.6 billion barrels of crude oil, 15.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Last year, China struck a deal with the Afghani to explore three oil fields there. The country is also one of the world’s top exporters of opium poppy, main ingredient to produce heroin, morphine etc. Hence, pharma giants Mallinckrodt, Abbott, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson and Johnson, Sanofi Aventis, Shionogi, and Macfarlan Smith maintain interests there. Rich nations invade purportedly weaker and backward nations to help them get by? Really?

CAR SHARING is a hallmark of community connectedness: mutual neighborhood trust. Such trade-off vis-à-vis money paid works for many people—until business comes in. Car-sharing outfits—like Getaround, RelayRides and JustShareIt—link car owners with renters. The companies use different formulas, but owners receive about two-thirds of the rental proceeds. An owner of a midsize, late-model sedan who rents out a car for 10 hours a week could expect $3,000 profit a year. This isn’t so bad, considering current financial woes—but it also negates “good neighbor” initiatives in us. Car sharing is still cheaper than car rentals, but then… Do you have good credit, dear neighbor?

THE people elect leaders whom they expect to work as one to bail them out of misery. Yet it seems a political imperative that leaders undermine each other to advance partisan ego—instead of fixing the situation as a collective. Recent example: Republicans are using consumer angst about the rising cost of oil and gas to condemn President Obama’s energy programs and reinforce their argument that his economic policies suck. Truth is, the major cause of the oil price hike is Iran’s recent warnings of a disruption in the global oil trade, which pushed the price of a barrel of domestic oil to more than $103, a six-month high. Will the GOP alter Obama’s policy on Iran? I don’t think so.

A LAS VEGAS STORY: As I hang out at a Bellagio’s café, waiting for a Manny Pacquiao fight that I was assigned to cover, an elderly Filipino woman approached me. She flew from New York on the occasion of the boxing event. She could have stayed in her son’s LA house and watched on cable. But she reasoned: “I’d like to pray nearer Manny so he wouldn’t get hurt and not hurt his opponent so much. I don’t want to see people hurting each other. But I want Manny to fight and win. His victory will earn more money to help feed his people.” So with a rosary, she stayed on a corner of the café, monitored the fight via cellphone updates, c/o her grandson whom he paid to watch the duel live.

BRANDING is all about celebrity careers marketed as brands. The idea that anyone can be a fashion designer is now part of culture shock. Celebs are aiming for the glittered firmament that once belonged to Diane von Furstenberg, Karl Lagerfeld and Vera Wang… Of course, no one imagined that Kanye West was actually sketching designs, cutting and stitching outfits. Well, the Kardashians employ tiny Chinese hands, so… As long as the public suck them up, no prob to profit. Anyways, taste is relative, right? Now, can Geoffrey Beene and Coco Chanel match up with P. Diddy’s gangsta cool or Lady Gaga’s bombastic kitsch? What about Zac Posen gears over Paris Hilton’s Chihuahua aerobics ensemble?

A analysis avers that China’s adoption of Japan’s Asian development model will be its downfall: State-controlled low wage scale that sparks export growth and industrialization via hefty investments. I beg to disagree. Truth is, the Japanese standard has fuelled East Asia’s rapid-growth economies, due to the region’s modifications. However, I believe, what will bring down China’s manufacturing machine are the SOEs (state-owned enterprises), which are no different from Wall Street. SOEs are now favored over small factories that jumpstarted China’s ascent to economic lordship in mid-80s. Now, they are hobbled by high interest rates, etc. With SOEs at the helm, expect economic collapse soon…

BASED on recent studies, US marriage rates, have hit a historic low. Nuptials are down from 72 percent in the 1960s. The intrigue is—despite people’s lesser interest in wedlock, majority of the unmarried, 61 percent, still hope to get hitched. Until, oh well—not really, we’re just daydreaming… Last Valentine’s Day, consumer expenditures reached $18 billion. Meantime, romantic fiction accounts for more than $1 billion annually in US sales. Harlequin—the brand name alias for romance novels—sells more than four books each second. Many are still gasping over Stephenie Meyer’s silly vampires in love? That’s okay. Everybody’s in love with love, until Cher slaps us in the face: “SNAP OUT OF IT?!?”

A FREE AGENT, much like in sports, is a person who does not have any commitments that restrict his/her actions. In 2011, the number of free agents had grown to 44 million as Americans desired more freedom, flexibility and ways to get paid for professional skills. Could be good… Problem is, the “free agent” psyche has relegated emotional depth to the background. We give up relationships like giving up a job that are not economically viable, or commitment is a bygone response since there are other more pressing issues to pursue. Feels like Ayn Rand’s objectivism: Love and sex are mere conditions of temporal intellectual bliss—for personal gain and pleasure.

FAITH, Denim Grooming, and TV Ads

FAITH has taken a huge, absurd “makeover” lately... Fascinating. According to a recent Pew Research report, the percentage of Americans who are not affiliated with any religion is on the rise, including a third of Americans under 30. In recent years—what actually is the difference between getting high in a rock fest, Super Bowl, applauding in a political party convention, and attending a church convergence? Not much. Both rent stadium seating in thousands, Jumbotrons and smoke machines. Like a Tea Party soiree or Lady Gaga CD launch, “religious” congregations these days—such as the faithful in Deep Ellum in Dallas—perk up their church with come-ons: an art gallery, a yoga studio and a business incubator, sharing the building with a coffee shop and a performance space. Yes, that is a Church... BTW, don't forget your credit card.

DENIM GROOMING. Just for my (and probably your) trivia amusement... I was just browsing an issue of Men's Health and came across a fashion/style page titled, “Denim Democracy,” or how to groom in style on denim ensemble. Okay, here goes: Brunello Cuccinelli tie, $140; DKNY jeans, $156; G-Star vest, $220; Mark McNairy/New Amsterdam shoes, $425; Diesel under denim brief, $25; Stetson hat, $110; Will Leather Goods bag, $275. That is a whopping $1,351 (excluding tax)! With that money, I can organize 4 or 5 “Bonfires for Peace” free concert events, 5 hours each event. But I'd love a Stetson hat and Will Leather bag sometime... I'll wait for them at Goodwill, for maybe $3 and $7, respectively.

FASCINATING. An ad on TV offers service to humans how to use their brain properly... I went online and, I quote: “In addition to arranging Right Brain Express and Right Brain Aerobics training for your organization or department, you can also arrange a Right Brain-storming or Right Brain Sales session to...” etc etc. I wonder what'd the Neanderthals say. The direct grannies and granpas of these stone age homeys learned how to control fire 125,000 years ago without paying some smart brain consultant a pound of dino meat. Or what would Elle Cyd, the koolcat, say if I offer her a brain-training service? Probably she'd scowl at me: “Dude, I am not that dumb! I can roam wherever—yet here I am, not losing my way home each time. But you, humans, need a Smartphone to remind you you got a brain. Hello?!?”

ABOUT a month ago, the Chinese government issued rules requiring Internet users to provide their real names to service providers, while assigning Internet companies greater responsibility for deleting forbidden postings and reporting them to the authorities. We could easily judge such drastic measure—or outright censorship—as brought about by the Chinese Communist Party's hyper-sensitivity in regards anything political or internal. But I am ambivalent about the issue—in the context of our own internet lives. Free Speech is a basic human right but rights come with utmost responsibility. The internet has been used and abused—destructive “jokes” (ie false news about an individual's death or the Manti Te'o “virtual” girlfriend sham), outright ridicule of other people's religious beliefs, distortion of photos for pornographic purposes, vicious identity thefts etc. Who's going to “police” us? Us.

AS librarians across the nation struggle with the task of redefining their roles in a digital age, many public libraries are seeing an opportunity to fill the void created by the loss of traditional bookstores. They are increasingly adapting their collections and services based on the demands of library patrons, whom they now call customers... Today’s libraries are now showcasing the latest best sellers, lending Kindles loaded with e-books, and offering grass-roots technology training centers. “I think public libraries used to seem intimidating to many people, but today, they are becoming much more user-friendly, and are no longer these big, impersonal mausoleums,” said Jeannette Woodward, author of “Creating the Customer-Driven Library: Building on the Bookstore Model.” On closer look, however, it's just a matter of time till e-book companies control libraries. And yes, you hear it right—the patrons are now called customers.

AS though outsourcing factory work in China isn't enough, here comes Russia with more hands to offer America... When China entered WTO in the 1990s, it ushered the demise of American industrial might and the disenfranchisement of its once-vaunted workforce. Recently, Russia was accepted as a WTO member... Hence, the eventuality: General Motors ramps up production in Russia, a country that is becoming a bright spot for G.M. and much of the rest of the automotive industry. Trickle-down oil wealth and the spread of easily accessible auto financing are lifting sales, which rose by 40 percent in the first half of this year compared with the same period a year ago. G.M., Ford, Volkswagen, Nissan and Renault are all opening new plants, or intend to do so soon.

HOW'D you feel when, on your first date, just when you're about to nibble on your strawberry shortcake dessert, she (or he) asks you this question: “What’s your credit score?” The credit score, once a little-known metric derived from a complex formula that incorporates outstanding debt and payment histories, has become an increasingly important number used to bestow credit, determine housing etc. It’s so widely used that it has also become a bigger factor in dating decisions, sometimes eclipsing more traditional priorities like a good job, shared interests and physical chemistry. “Credit scores are like the dating equivalent of a sexually transmitted disease test,” said Manisha Thakor, the founder and chief executive of MoneyZen Wealth Management, a financial advisory firm. “It’s a shorthand way to get a sense of someone’s financial past the same way an S.T.D. test gives some information about a person’s sexual past.”

IT is sad, of course—when we see high school seniors opt out of college and decide to tread the surest path to a job, for the meantime. Many degree holders are toiling as wait staff or hotel crew as jobs continue to be shipped abroad—yet many youths become millionaires as sports stars, recording artists or computer wizards. For most though, they just have to be practical... Teenagers in a small oil county of Sidney in Montana are examples. Youths choose the oil fields over universities, forgoing higher education. It is a lucrative but risky decision for any 18-year-old to make, one that could foreclose on his future if the frenzied pace of oil and gas drilling from here to North Dakota to Texas falters and work dries up. But with unemployment at more than 12 percent nationwide for young adults and college tuition soaring, students here said they were ready to take their chances.

WHAT is “gamification”? This is a marketing trick that aims to infuse otherwise mundane activities with the excitement and instant feedback of video games. Many businesses are using these game strategies to try to get people hooked on their products and services — and it is working, thanks to smartphones and the Internet. Buying a cup of coffee? Foursquare, the social networking app that helped popularize the gamification idea, gives people virtual badges for checking in at a local cafe or restaurant. Conserving energy? More than 75 utilities have begun using a service from a company called Opower that awards badges to customers when they reduce their energy consumption. You get the drift, right? Now, keep on playing...

MEDIA blackout. This happens when news organizations decide to shut up in the face of certain events. There are many reasons why media may declare a blackout—most out of caution. In 2008, when David Rohde, then a reporter for The New York Times, was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan, more than 40 major news outlets refrained from reporting the story for seven months, until he and a local reporter escaped... There are also many instances when persistent reporters outsmart actual police investigation, for example. Media is concerned with info dissemination, police focuses on solving crimes. Most often than not, these intents collide. But we know for a fact that that line has narrowed due to a fluid stream of “info” flow in the internet. Gossip websites such as Gawker can easily post a video or blog entry and things go haywire... Or a 13-year old nerd could cook up a photoshopped image and then, voila!

AN article in Shareable concludes: “... Private banks are finding ways to swindle the American people.” It is hard to argue him. For one, collateralized debt obligations and asset-backed securities helped create the housing bubble. Now, bankers are using interest-rate swap bonds to obtain greater profits from loans that finance national infrastructure. In this complex process, when a city needs cash for a new school or subway line, Wall Street entices it into a “swap bond” with a promise to pay more (in regular installments) as interest rates rise, while the city pays a fixed monthly rate. But if interest rates fall, so do the bank’s payments, leaving the city scrambling to pay the monthly bills with less cash on hand. Problem is, virtually all interest rate swaps between local and state governments and the largest banks have turned into perverse contracts whereby cities and counties pay millions yearly to the few elite banks that run the global financial system...

DUE to many acquired sociocultural sensitivities these days, it seems easier to assume that differences in job opportunities and racial trends in academic “success” has also narrowed. Not true, according to recent studies... New evidences suggest that low-income Americans have lower chances of upward mobility than counterparts in Canada and Western Europe. Thirty years ago, there was a 31 percentage point difference between the share of prosperous and poor Americans who earned bachelor’s degrees, according to researchers at the University of Michigan. Now the gap is 45 points. This means, both groups improved their odds of finishing college—but the affluent improved much more, widening their sizable lead. It seems a no-brainer but a lot of factors play around such a trend...

YOU and me aren't the only ones multitasking—and I am not just talking about cooking, editing and making family-related phone calls. It most prevalent in global economy. It’s called microtasking, and it works by outsourcing small, virtual tasks to an army of online workers, who then perform them for pennies. These tasks vary widely in scope and substance, but what links them all is that they’re essentially too difficult or too dependent on human analysis for a computer to do, but too simple for skilled labor. And they’re the bedrock of the internet. Crowdsourced microtasking—conducted largely via’s Mechanical Turk site—is now a multimillion-dollar industry. And I am not even talking about why my job as journalist-editor has been microtasked so widely, universally...

WE are getting older alive, yes—physically... A sharp decline in deaths from malnutrition and infectious diseases like measles and tuberculosis has caused a shift in global mortality patterns over the past 20 years, according to the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania. The shift reflects improvements in sanitation, medical services and access to food throughout the developing world, as well as the success of broad public health efforts like vaccine programs. The results are striking: infant mortality declined by more than half from 1990 to 2010, and malnutrition, the No. 1 risk factor for death and years of life lost in 1990, has fallen to No. 8. The study, however, didn't provide data on mental health...

HUNDREDS of thousands of people across the world have switched on their computers to find distressing messages alerting them that they no longer have access to their PCs or any of the files on them. The messages claim to be from the FBI, some 20 other law enforcement agencies across the globe or, most recently, Anonymous, a shadowy group of hackers. The computer users are told that the only way to get their machines back is to pay a steep fine. And it’s working. The scheme is making more than $5 million a year, according to computer security experts who are tracking them. The scourge dates to 2009 in Eastern Europe. There are now more than 16 gangs of sophisticated criminals extorting millions from victims across Europe. It's no surprise that it's also widespread in the US.

PEOPLE of all ages, especially those between 18 and 34, have become so comfortable with online commerce, instant correspondence, and daily confession that personal privacy is being redefined and, some argue, blithely forfeited. “Young people have already embraced the frenzied commercial environment of the digital marketplace,” says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. So fast. Cell phones track physical movement; computer cookies transmit buying habits, political affiliations, and sexual proclivities. And now, because computer users have characteristic patterns of how they time their keystrokes [and] browse websites, researchers are learning how to use typeprints, clickprints, and writeprints, respectively, as digital forms of fingerprints. The future is scary.

WE are a landlocked people, fenced away from our own beautiful shores, unable to exercise the ancient right to enjoy our precious beaches. These days, beachfront property owners, wealthy municipalities and private homeowners’ associations threw up a variety of physical and legal barriers designed to ensure the exclusivity — and marketability — of the beach. These measures were not only antisocial but also environmentally destructive. By increasing the value of shoreline property and encouraging rampant development, the trend toward privatizing formerly public space has contributed in no small measure to the damage storms inflict. Tidal lands that soaked up floodwaters were drained and developed. Jetties, bulkheads and sea walls were erected, hastening erosion. And sand dunes — which block rising waters but also profitable ocean views — were bulldozed. So what is safer: Let the people freely enjoy the beaches or let business own them?

IN the 1970s, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh developed a software to diagnose complex problems in general internal medicine—which resulted in a commercial program called Quick Medical Reference. IBM is now working on Watson for Healthcare (Watson, the Jeopardy-playing computer). Before that, in 1996--the Deep Blue chess program trounced Garry Kasparov, the world’s best player at the time--to claim an unambiguous victory in the computer’s relentless march into the human domain. What does this portend? Now it is easier to solve problems with the help of machines that are made by human minds? Or does it say—since we've already stocked up data and stuff on these electronic gadgets that humans should think less this time? So we become the machines...

THIS year, more than 40 brand-name drugs — valued at $35 billion in annual sales — lost their patent protection, meaning that generic companies were permitted to make their own lower-priced versions of well-known drugs like Plavix, Lexapro and Seroquel — and share in the profits that had exclusively belonged to the brands. Next year, the value of drugs scheduled to lose their patents and be sold as generics is expected to decline by more than half, to about $17 billion, according to an analysis by Crédit Agricole Securities... Big freakin' deal! During the first nine months of 2012, sales of generic drugs increased by 19 percent over the same period in 2011, to $39.1 billion from $32.8 billion, according to Credit Suisse. I'd like to translate those money to food production, instead.

PRESIDENT Obama previously said that the 30,000 American troops deployed to Afghanistan would be home by September, and he made good on that promise. He also said troop reductions would continue at a “steady pace” until the remaining 66,000 were out by the end of 2014. A “steady pace” should mean withdrawing all combat forces on a schedule... However, it was recently reported that military commanders are pressing to keep most of the remaining troops until the end of the 2013. The cost of maintaining troops there is on the upward of $500 billion. The real story: Aside from Afghanistan's steady supply of natural gas and crude oil, the country has has been the greatest opium producer in the entire world. Opium can be manufactured into codeine and morphine, both legal pain-killers, among other drugs (legal and illegal). There are more than a dozen giant, mostly American and European, pharmaceutical companies maintaining base in Afghanistan.