Thursday, August 21, 2003

Developing countries have at last gotten their act together in the area of trade. According to an Inter Press Service article, a group of countries that includes Argentina, Brazil, China, India, and South Africa is pushing a new initiative, backed by 16 developing nations, [which] demands a definitive end to all export subsidies, reductions in subsidies to farmers and greater access to agricultural markets.

The proposal seeks to reform agricultural policies in order to establish a fair international trade system, one that is guided by markets. It also aims to harmonize the diverse interests of the developing world through the adoption of the ”special and differentiated treatment” mechanism for poor countries and authorization to implement protection measures for products considered strategic for their economies, noted the article.

A spokesman for the group noted that developed countries have the means to subsidize farmers and agricultural products thus putting poorer countries at a distinct disadvantage. He noted that the average COW in the European Union receives $2.5 a day in government subsidies; a large percentage of the world’s HUMANS live on less than $2 a day.

A European official tried to discredit the developing countries’ effort as class warfare. He deemed the effort a “reinvention of the 1970s slogan of South versus North.”

I applaud the developing countries’ proposal. They have finally realized they must band together if they are to improve the lives of their people. I contend that foreign aid, while useful in the short term, has not BY ITSELF made a significant long term difference in development anywhere in the last 30 years. This is because of trade policies that are vastly unfavorable to developing countries. What the west gives with one hand (aid), it takes away with the other (trade policies) and then some. If western countries were to drop subsidies and open their markets to raw materials from Africa, Asia and South America, those developing countries could see their standard of living improve faster and more durably than any amount of charity would provoke.

Western countries have long banded together to protect the interests of their farmers. It’s past time developing countries did the same.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

I happened to stop on Fox News (sic) Channel for a minute or two. This happens occassionally as it's strategically mislocated between the evil Yankees' (redundant, I know) Channel and MSG Network, both of which sometimes show soccer.

They had two yapping heads talking about Liberia. Surprisingly, they were talking, not shouting. They engaged the standard, fact-free UN-bashing.

One guy, Mort Kondrake I think, was outraged. "How come it's taking the UN 4-6 weeks to send peacekeepers to Liberia?" he thundered. Then they went ranting on about the UN incompetence. The other guy not only didn't correct him but agreed with him. Like I said, standard b.s. Only the Kondrake knows if he is ignorant or willfully deceptive.

Newsflash to those two "experts" on FNC: THE UN IS BANNED FROM HAVING A STANDING ARMY.

This is what annoys me about the UN-bashing in this country. It's mostly uninformed. These "experts" were talking as though the UN had a standing army. Critics here talk about the UN as though it has any inherent authority on its own. As though the Secretary-General (S-G) is something like the president of the world. It's a bunch of nonsense. But what annoys me is that there are people out there listening to these yapping heads who don't know the difference and believe them.

The UN Secretary-General is a figure head, sort of like the Pope in a way. His power is pretty much limited to moral authority. Kondrake acts like the S-G can simply snap his fingers and have troops be somewhere the next day. The S-G has no divisions, as Stalin famously noted of the pontiff. And this is exactly how the US and the other big powers want it.

Some conservatives in this country complain that the UN has too much power, that it's leading us to one world government. Then when it doesn't bend to whatever Washington wants, they deride the UN as weak and incompetent. So my question is this: how can the UN simultaneously be too powerful and ineffectual?

Any deployment of UN peacekeepers requires not only the approval of the Security Council but, and this is the key point, the volunteering of troops by member states. In most UN missions, troops are primarily supplied by less powerful countries like India, Bangladesh and Uruguay.

So when anyone speaks of "the UN," you should ask what that means. "The UN" is many things. To Americans, it's peacekeeping, the Security Council and, to some, "one world government." To people in other countries, "the UN" is the people who feed and house the refugees or organize vaccination campaigns.

Ultimately, "the UN" is whatever member states, especially the rich ones, want it to be. Or not be. This is why I often put "the UN" in quotes. "The UN" is its member countries. Nothing more, nothing less. It's barely an entity in itself..

In answer to Kondrake's question, the reasons it's taking "the UN" is taking 4-6 weeks to send troops to Liberia are these. 1) It took the Security Council a while to authoritze said mission and 2) member states, including the United States, aren't exactly rushing to volunteer peacekeeping troops for the mission.

"The UN" most certainly has its flaws. Some are of its own making (like a New York City-heavy bureaucracy) and others imposed from outside (the slowness of the Security Council and powerlessness of the General Assembly were designed precisely to not give it too much authority at the expense of the big powers). But criticism should at least be informed in order to be taken seriously.

Anyways, either Kondrake or the other commentator opined that President Bush was right to be reticent about sending troops to Liberia because, in his opinion, it would be risking "another Somalia."

Now warnings against another Somalia are what some people automatically use to argue against any deployment of troops in Africa, whether the analogy is accurate or not. This warning was used to scuttle against any possible mission in the Rwandan genocide, even though the situations in Somalia (total chaos) and Rwanda (meticulously planned and executed slaughter) were polar opposites. But given what I know about Liberia and the factions there, this is actually not a totally unfounded fear.

Nevertheless, the argument is ironic. In Somalia, 18 American servicemen were killed on the streets of Mogadishu. It is argued that Americans must, at all costs, avoid "another Somalia," no matter how great the human suffering that we could prevent. 18 American servicemen killed in Africa is unacceptable.

Yet the public was gung ho about invading, conquering and occupying Iraq even though it was all but guaranteed that far more than 18 servicemen would die there, which has proven true.

We've had more than 18 die since President Fighter Pilot declared the end of major hostilities. There have been demonstrations against the occupation in Iraq. In Liberia, the people are IMPLORING us to come. Not just the public either. Both the government and the rebels have invited us. Yet, we go where we're not wanted but refuse to get where they're begging us.

Revisionists in the administration say, "Hey, it's no big deal we can't find weapons of mass destruction, the primary justification for the war. At least we got rid of an evil dictator and that makes us righteous and good." Well, Charles Taylor certainly qualifies as evil dictator. And an indicted war criminal to boot. And he's destabilized more of his neighbors than even Saddam did. Is that enough comparisons to satisfy you?

What's the difference? For those who insist that the Iraq invasion had no economic motive whatsoever, what is the difference? We "conspiracy theorists" are curious.

Friday, August 08, 2003

A long time ago, I stopped regularly watching American TV news but I'm quickly becoming a fan of CNN's Newsnight normally with Aaron Brown, as it actually seems worth an hour of my time. I still watch it in addition to listening to the BBC World Service radio, which is sometimes complicating as the BBC's only newcast of more than 5 minutes in the evening also starts at 10 PM. Sometimes the Internet resolves that conflict.

Last night wasn't one of Newsnight's better performances. They spent the first 40 (!!) minutes of the broadcast going on about California. Sure, a recall effort in the nation's largest state is a pretty big deal and a lot certainly happened in that story yesterday. It wasn't totally unreasonable for it to be the lead story. But to spend 2/3 an hourlong broadcast on this one story, three or four different segments, was massive overkill. (Memo to Ahnold: try to avoid lame jokes using titles of or lines from your movies).

After CNN was done speculating on weighty questions like Arnold Schwarzenegger's alleged womanizing, they moved on to more trivial stuff like peacekeepers in Liberia, plans for nuclear proliferation in the US and an embassy bombing in Baghdad.

The California situation seemed like a bad joke until, in the Liberia segment, they played comments by the country's indicted war criminal/dictator Charles Taylor. Taylor complained that an American military helicopter landed in the US embassy complex but that US officials didn't have the courtesy to inform his government.

Normally, they would have sent us a note that there are Black Hawk helicopters landing at the embassy, sniffed the indicted war criminal. That's what you do if you respect international law. But we have no choice. We still accept American presence here, but people have to learn to do it properly.

(as quoted here)

To hear a man allegedly responsible, either directly or indirectly, for destabilizing four countries, for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and for ruining the lives of millions more yammer on about respecting international law and proper process was a pretty difficult thing to do while eating dinner. Even more amazing, Taylor made the complaint in conjuction with his efforts to void international law by getting the war crimes indictment against him quashed. You couldn't make this stuff up.

It was hard not to laugh. Except that it's so serious. What's next? Idi Amin lecturing on the importance of respecting human life?