Site Meter

America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Friday, September 01, 2006

End of a cotton-pickin' nation

Julie Beth is half of Friday Chick Blogging. You can read more of her at It's an Outrage.

Do you ever think about where the cotton you're wearing came from? A bit of it might have come from West Africa, where a lot of cotton is grown by impoverished farmers and sold at dirt cheap prices because enormous American cotton subsidies keep world cotton prices artificially low.

In fact, American cotton subsides cost many poor, cotton-growing countries more than the United States gives them in aid. And yet the Bush administration has steadfastly fought to retain the subsidies and has only recently begun to buckle under World Trade Organization pressure and mandates.

Oxfam says:
The economic losses inflicted by the US cotton subsidy program far outweigh the benefits of its aid. Mali received $37m in aid in 2001 but lost $43m as a result of lower export earnings...The financial damage inflicted by US cotton subsidies has grave implications for poverty. Cotton growers in the US can shift relatively easily to other crops, but the scope for substitution is much more limited in the Sahel. Grown alongside maize and other cereals, cotton is the main cash crop for a large section of the rural population.
The problem, of course, is that kidnapped West Africans were enslaved so American southern plantations owners could grow and process cotton with little overhead and keep prices low. Even though those farmers can't do that anymore, they continue to enslave West Africans from afar by accepting astronomical subsidies that prop up American cotton prices and keep West African farmers from breaking even.

Cotton farmer sleeping in Burkina Fasso.
Cotton farmer sleeping at the market day in Gorom Gorom, Burkina Faso.
The American South can no longer produce cotton as well or as cheaply as other areas of the world can. That means the long legacy of the United States as a cotton-growing (and picking) nation is in its last days. Families that have grown cotton for generations and hundreds of years will now have to grow something else, or get out of the growing business entirely.

It's sad when traditions like that die, but it's not tragic. It's a tragedy when American calls for free and open markets fall on deaf ears all over the world because they know what we really mean is, "Free markets for us, but not for you."

And it's a tragedy when millions of West African children go hungry during growing season so that an American farmer can get rich on tax dollars and still be able to say that he grows cotton just like his daddy did, and his daddy before him.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sudan follows Bush's lead

On Sunday, the Chicago Tribune reported that Paul Salopek, Mandasaurous's favorite reporter, has been arrested and charged with espionage in Sudan.
Paul Salopek, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, was charged with espionage and two other criminal counts in a Sudanese court Saturday, three weeks after he was detained by pro-government forces in the war-torn province of Darfur.

Salopek, 44, who was on a freelance assignment for National Geographic magazine, was arrested with two Chadian citizens, his interpreter and driver. If convicted, they could be imprisoned for years.

Chicago Tribune Editor and Senior Vice President Ann Marie Lipinski called Salopek "one of the most accomplished and admired journalists of our time. He is not a spy."
By all accounts, Salopek is a man deeply committed to using the power of the press to make a positive difference in the world. Which is why he was taking the risk of being in the Sudan in the first place. Committed reporters are natural enemies of corrupt and repressive regimes, and suppression of the press is one of the hallmarks of such regimes.

Unfortunately, the Sudanese government's position is not much different than that of the Bush administration. Attorney General Alberto Gonazles has asserted the administration has the power to imprison journalists who reveal "state secrets" (specifically citing the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping program), and prosecuting and imprisoning journalists is something of a crusade among many right-wing bloggers; Glenn Greenwald has written extensively on this.

When you find yourself arguing the positions espoused by African dictatorships, I suggest you might be on the wrong track. To the Sudanese government, espionage is defined as publishing or investigating anything the government doesn't want you to. If you embarrass the government, you're hurting national security.

This is essentially what the Bush administration is saying when it asserts its right to prosecute journalists for publishing stories about warrantless wiretapping. There is simply no legitimate argument to be made that revealing this program harms national security. None. Terrorists who view America as the all-powerful Great Satan threatening to take over the world already believe that our government will stop at nothing, certainly not warrants, to catch them. That's assuming that people who come from monarchies like Saudi Arabia even understand the concept of warrants.

Such stories do hurt the Bush administration, that's true — the public tends to look down on lawbreaking by their government. But hurting the current occupants of the White House is not the same thing as hurting the nation, and Bush's inability or unwillingness to make that distinction is more than a little scary. We've often been told that criticizing Bush only helps the terrorists — should that kind of speech be illegal too?

Perhaps this is why there has yet been no official response from the State Department on Salopek's detention; it's difficult to put pressure on people that are echoing your own words. Much like allowing torture and mistreatment of captured enemy soldiers puts our own soldiers at risk when they are captured, so does talk of prosecuting reporters hurt our ability to argue against the imprisonment of journalists by other governments (one of China's favorite things in the whole world.).

Sen. Barack Obama was speaking about Salopek in the Sudan, but he could as easily been talking about our own country: "Press freedom is like tending a garden; it's never done. It continually has to be nurtured and cultivated and the citizenry has to value it. It's one of those things that can slip away if we don't tend to it."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Superman for president

I saw the new Superman movie not too long ago. Not a bad flick overall (I'd give it a B or B-), but one scene in particular really rubbed me the wrong way.

At one point, Superman flies up into the upper atmosphere and just sort of hovers for a moment. Then, you can hear a montage of sounds that suggest Superman can listen in on just about any noise on the continent (random talking, music playing, etc).

Suddenly, he perks up for a moment, then dives down below to the world again, clearly acting on something urgent he just heard. And there he goes, descending on some major American city to help the police stop some maniac with a big gun.

So why does this scene bother me so? Because he's Superman, dammit, and he's wasting his time with one nut who—at worst—is threatening the lives of a dozen people. Is that really the biggest threat to humanity at that time? Is there nothing else Superman can do to save more lives, or improve more lives, or do some lasting good?

Cinematic Superman suffers from what I call "acting small": he can do nearly anything he wants, but besides those days when a real supervillian steps up, he passes his weeks and months saving people one at a time. Thousands of people are being massacred off in Sudan that same day, but Fluffy got caught in a tree in Metropolis, and Fluffy comes first.

So in the spirit of following the game of international power politics, I ask you: if you were Superman and wanted to make the biggest positive impact on the world, what would you do first? Find Bin Laden? Blackmail Bush? Go on permanent tsunami watch?

Think about it.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Torture is in the eye of the beholder

(updated below)


Saddam!Saddam Hussein has been forced to watch South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, according to the film's co-creator Matt Stone.

The former Iraqi leader is portrayed in the movie as a homosexual who is in a relationship with the devil, and Stone claims the prisoner is being forced to watch it "repeatedly" as he is held by US Marines.

The South Park movie was banned on release in Iraq seven years ago.

Stone reveals: "I have it on pretty good information from the Marines on detail in Iraq that they showed him the movie. That's really adding insult to injury. I bet that made him really happy."


John Tierney has a column in the NYT talking about South Park conservatives. Seems Trey Parker and Matt Stone are a little disillusioned with the Republican Party these days.
Stone and Parker told me they'd previously seen the G.O.P. as a relief from the big-government liberals, particularly the ones preaching to America from Hollywood. "We see these people lying, cheating, whoring," Stone said. "They're our friends, but seriously, they're not people you want to listen to."

The religious right used to be a better alternative, Parker said. "The Republicans didn't want the government to run your life, because Jesus should. That was really part of their thing: less government, more Jesus. Now it's like, how about more government and Jesus?"
Ayup. That pretty much sums it up for me.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Int'l Power Rankings | 08.28.06 Edition

Since the last International Power Rankings posted on July 6, we've seen the beginning, middle and end of Operation: Lebanon. What we're witnessing now is an aftermath that is playing out like a classic "What If?" scenario—what if the "international community" tried to proactively transition a war situation into a peace?

With harsh Realpolitik themes like deadlines (a good solution now is better than a great solution next month), authority (who's responsible for assembling this force? For leading it?) and the concept of following promises with action, this is truly a landmark experiment in international law and order. Can't wait to see how it all plays out.

Previous rankings:   6.19.06 | 7.5.06

1. United States. America's biggest role in the war was the refusal to take action. While this was a clear indication that it supported Israel's effort to destroy Hezbollah, it was also a clear indication that international action operates much slower in the absence of American influence.

2. China. How to become a superpower in 20 years: ally yourself with just about anyone (i.e. Iran and Venezuela), refuse to get involved in volatile situations (i.e. Iraq and Lebanon), and wait it out.

3. Russia. Along with China, Russia's biggest contribution to the world in the past few months is its prevention of any UN Security Council action against Iran. Thanks, Putin.

4. Japan. As Russia and China get cozy, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi is making an effort to reintroduce Tokyo to the rest of Asia. If he fails, it's only a matter of time before the words "Shanghai Cooperation Organization" becomes synonymous with "Warsaw Pact."

5. France. Up Arrow Worked out a ceasefire in southern Lebanon: score one for France. Eventually following up with a dedication of 2,000 troops and UNIFIL leadership until February: score two for France. Now the only thing that stands between Chirac and a Nobel Peace Prize is Hezbollah. Don't hold your breath.

6. Britain. Down Arrow Airport terror breakups + all troops tied up in Iraq = a country playing defense in the power game.

7. Germany. Down Arrow A flat-out refusal to get in a position where they may have to fire on Israelis means that, for the time being, Germany has to sit this out. I know we're all itching for those German troops to get back in action, but we'll just have to wait a little longer.

8. India. Steady economic growth and gradual nuclear legitimacy may create superpowers, but they don't make headlines. Not this decade, anyway.

9. Pakistan. Here's to Pakistan: the source of (and solution to) all the world's terror.

10. Iran. Up Arrow Well, here you have it. Iran in the Top Ten—and, for the first time since the Power Rankings began, ahead of Israel. Brilliant tactical move #1: use Hezbollah to bait Israel. Brilliant tactical move #2: gave Hezbollah over half a billion dollars to rebuild Lebanese homes. Now they're using their buddies Russia and China to keep Security Council sanctions at bay. It's Iran's world, people, and we're just living it in.

11. Italy. Up Arrow Welcome to the Big Leagues.

12. Israel. Down Arrow They destroyed enough of civilian Lebanon to piss off the world ten times over, but destroyed too little of Hezbollah to declare victory. Translation: Israel didn't win this one, people. And now, as Israel's air of invincibility dissipates alongside the rise of Iran, they may have to change both their short-term and long-term tactics. Would not want to be in Ehud Olmert's shoes right now.

13. Brazil. Down Arrow The Age of Brazil will come someday, but it's clear they're not yet ready to enter the game. Have you heard the Brazilian position on Lebanon? Iran? Israel? Cuba? Didn't think so.

14. South Korea. When North Korea stays out of the news, South Korea stays out of the news—and I don't think they mind.

15. Turkey. Up Arrow Along with Italy, Turkey seems to be the one country that A) has the muscle and international standing to play a big role in southern Lebanon and B) meets the approval of both Israel and the Lebanese. So why mess up their great standing by actually getting their hands dirty?

16. Canada. I've been waiting patiently for Canada to do something. Any day now.

17. Egypt. Down Arrow Iran's victory (through Hezbollah) is Egypt's loss. Nothing makes an "honest broker" look impotent like the emergence of a "war hero."

18. Australia. Up Arrow They're economically prosperous, politically stable and militarily strong. Oh, and they're Anglo. If history tells us anything, it's that Oceania's borders are about to expand.

19. Poland. America gets a little weaker, France gets a little stronger; Ukraine looks eastward, Germany looks westward; and Poland keeps on truckin'.

20. Saudi Arabia. Down Arrow The house of Saud openly criticized Hezbollah's actions leading up to Israel's invasion. Now, after Hezbollah's "victory", expect the Saudis to lay low for a while.

21. Venezuela. Up Arrow Yes, you're seeing this correctly: Venezuela just jumped ahead of Mexico. Think I'm crazy? Right now, Hugo Chavez is the most influential leader in Latin America, and he's amassed some impressive allies and scored some political victories for his friends along the way. Oh yeah, and oil.

22. Mexico. Down Arrow A nation in the grips of a disputed election is like a man with his testicles in a vice: he's still a man for the time being, but he's not about to make any drastic moves. Look for Mexico to sit out the next few plays.

23. Syria. Up Arrow As Iran's stock rises, so too does Syria. But in that neighborhood, a high profile isn't always what you're going for.

24. Palestine. Down Arrow You can be sure that Hamas is taking notes on Hezbollah.

25. North Korea. Down Arrow You can be sure that Kim Jung-Il is taking notes on
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Almost ranked: Ukraine, Indonesia, Spain, South Africa, Jordan.

Throw the Jew down the well

Here's Ali G (doing Borat) leading some country and western fans in a fun little sing-along.

I can't decide whether this is a real example of anti-Semitism, or just groupthink and peer pressure. Either way, I find it more disturbing than funny. Though it's still pretty goddamn funny.

Jeff Goldstein is a wanker.