EU Blames India and China for Rise in Global Food Prices

Following the footsteps of President Bush, now the EU blames India and China for the increase in global food prices. According to the EU Commissioner for agriculture and rural development Mariann Fischer Boel, “the first elephant is the huge increase in demand from emerging countries like China and India. These countries are eating more meat. It takes about 4 kg of cereals to produce one kg of pork, and about two kg of cereals to make one kg of poultry meat. So a dietary shift towards meat in countries with populations of over 1 billion people each has an enormous impact on commodity markets.” However, this article does not quote any data to point to this growing trend of meat consumption in India and China. The article also quotes leading economist Jeff Sachs as saying that more than “third of the US maize crop in 2008 would be used to fill petrol tanks.” By the way, oil futures hit 123 dollars a barrel today. So, what is really driving global food prices, must be that the poor Indians and Chinese who live on less than a dollar a day are eating more. Hmm….we can’t have that happen. Can we?

Apocalypse of Unending African Wars

I spent the last few days reading a lot of material on U.S intervention in foreign wars, humanitarian intervention, and genocide in different parts of the world. Presently, I am researching the unending conflict in the Horn of Africa; these conflicts are mostly between Ethiopia–Eritrea and Somalia–Ethiopia. Off course, Sudan, Djibouti, and Kenya are regional players in these conflicts wittingly or otherwise, and the complex array of militias or rebel groups make things that much more complex. We have to spend some separate time on Sudan because we are witnessing genocide in progress in the Darfur region in Western Sudan, and the world is sitting and watching the systematic extermination of ethnic Sudanese by the Arab majority.

Now returning to our focus on Horn of Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia are in one of the most famine and conflict prone regions in the world. The question before us is this: do militarized conflicts cause famine or does famine and drought lead to militarized conflict? This question is not trivial and it is not necessarily a chicken and egg problem. There are definite causal chains that produce wars, famines, and large-scale social destabilization. For instance, Somalia has been in near continuous state of conflict since the late 1980s and Ethiopia has experienced famines and drought of Biblical proportions.

I am not even going to pose the question is there hope for these countries, but instead ask how do we break the continual cycle of conflict, destabilization, and famines. Second, what should be the role of international relief and various UN agencies, and what role should the UN member nations play in intervening in these types of complex humanitarian crisis?  Something we will ponder in the remaining few weeks of this semester.

Yahoo China and Democracy Activist-Update

I guess Yahoo decided to settle with the family of the jailed Chinese democracy activist by doing what large corporations do best—pay them-off. Yahoo apparently reached financial settlement with the family of the jailed activist for its role in releasing critical data that led to the arrest of the Shi Tao. The settlement amount was not disclosed, which has prompted serious criticisms from Internet privacy groups and human rights organizations over Yahoo’s role in disclosing the identity of Shi Tao to the Chinese government and for quietly settling.

Update–Yahoo and Chinese Human Rights

According to a news interview in NPR (National Public Radio), Yahoo provided the email id of Shi Tao to the Chinese authorities. Shi Tao had emailed a bunch a people a memo that Chinese authorities had sent to journalists asking them not cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Yahoo’s computer techs traced the email back to Shi Tao and then provided Shi Tao’s email id to the Chinese government, which led to his arrest and imprisonment.

Obviously, this issue raises serious questions about the limits of privacy in a county where privacy is alien concept. Can private corporations be trusted to ensure the privacy of individual data? For example, when I put stuff in my Google Calendar is it within the prerogatives of Google to reveal that information to the government authorities? Importantly, is that data Google’s property or is it my property? Note this is not same as selling your email address to junk mail agents or telemarketers. When the Chinese authorities got wind of Shi Tao’s democracy activities, they promptly sent him off to jail for 10 years for revealing state secrets. Now, I feel that the American Government is creeping in this direction, but that is a post for another day.

Profits and Principles–American Firms and Chinese Human Rights

I have written a paper on the topic of Chinese Human Rights and how the Chinese Government pressures major technology firms such as Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft into complying with illegal requests for data, which they rely on to hunt down online democracy activists and other dissidents.  Today in a hearing before the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Tom Lantos blasted the Chief Executive of Yahoo, Jerry Yang and General Counsel Michael Callahan for their unsavory roles in providing information to the Chinese government pro-democracy activist Shi Tao.

Shi Tao was sent to jail for 10 years for engaging in pro-democracy efforts deemed subversive after Yahoo turned over information about his online activities requested by Chinese authorities. Yang and Callahan turned around from the witness table and bowed from their seats to Shi’s mother, Gao Qinsheng, who bowed in return and then began to weep. Yang contended that Yahoo “has been open and forthcoming with this committee at every step of this investigative process” — a contention Lantos and other committee members rejected. 

Yahoo has since acknowledged that 

they had received a subpoena-like document that made reference to suspected “illegal provision of state secrets” — a common charge against political dissidents. Lantos argued that America’s best and brightest companies should not be “playing integral roles in China’s notorious and brutal political repression apparatus.” Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., compared Yahoo’s cooperation with the Chinese government to companies that cooperated with Nazi Germany during World War II. Lawmakers demanded to know what Yahoo would do to help Shi’s family and reacted with derision when neither Yang nor Callahan provided a concrete answer. 

The Chinese government has repeatedly cracked down on individuals by spying on their online activities, tracked cell phone calls, and blocked newspapers and blogs that might expose the Chinese people to learn about their nefarious activities of the government with the assistance of Western companies such as Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft. The Chinese government is not unique in its approach. All repressive governments use this tactic; most recently, Pakistan and Burma have relied on this tactic-shutting down all media-to suppress dissent and political challenge. The most galling thing about this is that increasingly Western companies are allies in these sort of activities. They secretly reveal information to the repressive regimes, which allows them to squelch all forms of dissent, in exchange for market access, i.e., permission to run business in authoritarian countries. So the question before us is this: should these firms be thinking about Profits or Principles? Interestingly, it is the name of the book written by Michael Santoro.  We are going to be looking at Santoro’s book in our seminar next week. 

Germans, Jews, and Palestinians–A Dialogue

The question before our panel was whether the trauma of the Holocaust and the ever-present Palestinian-Israel conflict make dialogue between Jews and Germans, and between Jews and Palestinians extremely difficult, if not impossible to bridge the impossible?

Julia Chaitin, Senior Lecturer from the Sapir Academic College, Hof Ashkelon, Israel, examined the barriers that often make conversations across the divide difficult.  Particularly, the focus of her discussion was on navigating the opposing narratives of the past and present in the context of “perpetrators” and “victims” through techniques of reflective storytelling and listening to open up dialogue within the setting of conflict. The lecture and the accompanying discussion provoked an interesting discussion on the possibility of dialogue among conflictual parties and the difficulty of such dialogue.

Can the parents of a Palestinian suicide bombers dialogue with the Israeli parents who have lost their son/daughter to that suicide bombing?  Could they look each other in the eye and potentially have a meaningful conversation? Can the sons and daughters of a Holocaust survivor visit the death camps in Germany and Poland and dialogue with the descendants of the camp guards? Can a Palestinian family talk to the Israeli family, which has occupied its Palestinian family’s former home?  These are eternally difficult questions to answers, rife with unfathomable ethical, moral, and emotional issues.

Human Rights Conference Report

Okay, here is my conference report. It was great to be a part of an intellectually invigorating and thought provoking Human Rights Conference at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. The weather was beautiful and the campus was neat, big and open, and the university seemed to be resource endowed. But, I spent most of my time in conference rooms slamming cups of coffee. Listed below are the panels that I attended. Would you like to guess what panel I presented in?

  • Human Rights and Restorative Justice
  • Gender and Human Rights
  • Rights of Immigrants
  • Media and Human Rights
  • Health and Human Rights
  • War on Terror and Human Rights
  • Human Rights and Economics
  • What are Human Rights?
  • UN and Human Rights
  • Human Rights and Religion

By the way looking at this list of panels should give you some ideas for paper topics. Anyway, the highlight of the conference, especially in the context of our First Year Seminar, is my brief meeting with Samantha Power, the author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. We are going to be reading her book in our class in a couple of weeks. Look forward to some good discussions in our class tomorrow.

Also, don’t forget tomorrow evening after our Model UN class at 7:30 pm Anne Fadiman–The author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down— is scheduled to give a talk at the Atwood Hall auditorium. Be sure to attend. I am positive this talk will bring perspective to the various discussions we had on Faidiman’s book during the orientation week.