viernes, 24 de abril de 2009

These people make me sick, too

These people make me sick, too. As Paul Krugman said in his column today, there's no reason to believe our government cannot confront our various crises (healthcare, the economy, and the environment) and investigate and litigate Bush administration war crimes at the same time. Our representatives in the House and Senate, as well as Justice department officials, are big boys and girls. We shouldn't sell them short. Additionally, we are a nation of laws. If Bush administration officials violated American and/or international law, as they clearly did, our system of justice demands they be prosecuted.

Unfortunately, refusal to prosecute the Bushies has nothing to do with concerns about the capacity of our government to multi-task. Any thoroughgoing look into Bush administration crimes will make a lot of people uncomfortable, most especially journalists, democratic politicians and other supposed "progressives," who enabled and/or actively supported the illegal acts of our chief executive. Obama clearly doesn't want to get his hands dirty and many in the Senate likely don't want to revisit their own dispicable behavior. In a nation of laws, these things ought not to matter. On many occasions, enforcement of U.S law frankly ruins people's lives. For instance, when ICE deports undocumented immigrants, they frequently break up families and destroy communities. When local judges enforce mandatory minimums and throw young black men in jail for selling a vile of heroin, they often condmen these men to entire lives in and out of prison. Nonetheless, ICE officials and local judges do it anyway, because it's the law. Such is the justice system for the poor and marginalized in our society: small crimes, often committed out of despair, bring huge punishments. In the Washington bubble, however, the law takes a backseat to the reputations and careers of pompous journalists and hack politicians. By refusing to act, Reid, Obama and company are blatantly violating the law, not to mention areappeasing crimes against humanity.

Mr. President, once again I'm very dissapointed. The ugliness of our nation's elite, and the moral bankruptcy of our supposed "justice" system, are on full display today.

These people make me sick

Wow, these people are absolutely ridiculous. According to many of the leading lights in the GOP, our government would be behaving like a corrupt Latin American dictatorship if we prosecuted Bush administration officials for torture. Ignore the fact that many, if not most, leading Bush administration officials violated American and international law by authorizing torture. If we go down that dangerous path towards prosecuting people who break the law, America will become no better than a Banana Republic. Like I said, wow.

Let's be honest, these remarks reach new levels of Orwellian insanity, even for Karl Rove. Furthermore, it's especially offensive for folks like John McCain, who have long supported sunglasses-wearing dictators and subverted democracy in Latin America, to make statements about the US becoming a "Banana Republic". What's the matter John, strongman rule works for Haiti or Venezuela but not for the USA?

These people make me sick.

domingo, 19 de abril de 2009

Two great pieces on Somalia

Most of the mainstream discourse on Somalia and the Somali pirates is disastrously misinformed. If you're interested in learning more about this tortured African nation, please check out these two great pieces that came out this week:

"Analysis: Somalia Piracy Began in Response to Illegal Fishing and Toxic Dumping by Western Ships off Somali Coast" from last Tuesday's Democracy Now


"Obama and Somalia," written by Bill Fletcher Jr., which appeared in Black Commentator and on Znet.

lunes, 13 de abril de 2009

Ah, more wisdom from Tom Friedman

According to his most recent New York Times Op-Ed, columnist Tom Friedman is currently down here in Costa Rica on a little "eco-vacation". Welcome to the rich coast, Tom! To be honest though, I'm a little disappointed to learn that you're here via your newspaper column. You couldn't have a least sent an email or posted on my facebook wall to let me know you're down here? Well, I suppose you're a pretty busy man, so I'll give you pass on not getting in touch with me just this once. I better get an invite to your memorial day party this year though. That pad of yours in Bethesda is pretty sweet.

All kidding aside, the subject of Friedman's column is Costa Rican environmental policy, and the nation's much-vaunted commitment to sustainability. What most impresses Mr. Friedman about Costa Rica, in his own words, is the widespread belief among the nation's policymakers that "economic growth and environmentalism work together". Among Costa Rica's pro-growth and pro-environment policies touted by Friedman are its Carbon tax, which goes to a "national fund to pay indigenous communities for protecting their forests," its tax on water, "whereby major users [such as agribusiness]...have to pay villagers upstream to keep their rivers pristine," it's 5-year old ban on oil drilling, the government's aggressive promotion of renewable electricity, and its consolidation of energy, the environment, and mining under a single government ministry.

Some of Friedman's elaborate praise for Costa Rica is valid. The country's ban on oil drilling was indeed a very wise, far-sighted decision, as the country possesses little oil to begin with and drilling would merely pollute the country's beautiful Caribbean beaches. I find it hard to argue with compensating local communities for protecting their forests. It's a terrific idea, and ought to be expanded. Further, the decision of the state-owned power company, the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE in Spanish), to continually expand renewable electricity production was great from an economic perspective. As Friedman mentions in his article, renewable electricity is the cheapest form of electricity, and Costa Ricans enjoy just about the lowest electric rates in all of Latin America (this also has a lot to do with the fact that electricity is publicly and not privately controlled, but we'll talk about that some other time).

Unfortunately, as you probably expected, Friedman is generally misguided in his assessment of Costa Rica's environmental record. This should not be a surprise to anyone, as Thomas Friedman is generally misguided about most things. What Friedman regards as the country's greatest strength--the view among its elite that growth and conservation go hand in hand--is I believe Costa Rica's greatest weakness. The fact of the matter is, often times the interests of industry and the pursuit of economic growth do not coincide with the goal of environmental preservation. When the interests of industry and the environment inevitably come into conflict, the Costa Rican government, like any other government, is faced with a choice: are we in favor of profits or the climate? Or just as often, are we in favor of profits or the people? Here in Costa Rica, the answer is almost always profits. Unfortunately, it's very much unlike the Costa Rican government to challenge the interests of powerful economic groups. As such, the reality behind the Costa Rican government's soaring environmentalist rhetoric is often rather ugly. For instance, Costa Rica has the highest deforestation rate in all of Latin America. Costa Rican farmers also use more gallons of pesticides per acre than farmers in any other nation in the hemisphere (see page 14 of linked article).

If my buddy Tom took some time to catch up on current events in Costa Rica, rather than relying exclusively on the testimony of a single government official, he would have likely come across an article or two about one of the myriad resource conflicts between industry and local communities which have taken place here over the past year. He wouldn't even have to learn Spanish to read about these struggles, as most of these cases have been extensively covered in the Tico Times, an English-language weekly oriented towards the sizeable North American expat community in Costa Rica. Had he done so, I hope he would have come to at least slightly different conclusions. Industries which have provoked conflicts with nearby communities include mining, tourism, and agribusiness/industrial fruit production and the federal government has taken the side of big business in every one of them. In my humble opinion, the most flagrant case of all of these is the government's treatment of the pineapple industry.

Anyone interested in learning more about Costa Rican pineapples can check out my blog post from last November about this issue. In a nutshell, the pineapple industry has grown rapidly in Costa Rica over the past ten years. From 2000 to 2007, land under pineapple cultivation grew over 200%, from 30,000 to 95,000 acres. From 2001 to 2008, the value of pineapple exports grew 294%, from $142 million to $560 million a year. As a result of this massive growth, Costa Rica is now the number 1 producer of fresh pineapples in the world and supplies more than 8 out of every 10 pineapples consumed in the United States. The primary beneficiaries of this explosive growth have been transnational fruit conglomerates Del Monte and Dole, which control most pineapple production, much of the processing of the fruit, and nearly all export operations. Unfortunately, however, the environmental impact of the industry has been utterly disastrous. Forests have been clear cut to make way for more pineapple plantations, soils have been depleted of their nutrients, and most importantly, rivers and aquifers which Costa Ricans rely on for drinking water have been contaminated with carcinogenic pesticides, including Bromacil and Terbufos.

How is it possible that the industry has done so much damage? The answer is that its growth has been almost entirely unregulated. Costa Rica has among the most progressive environmental legislation in the world. For instance, it is illegal for farmers to plant within 200 square meters of community water sources and companies must file environmental impact reports before comencing operations. However, when Costa Rican law comes into conflict with the desires of Dole and Del Monte, it has simply not been enforced. I have seen with my own eyes plantations located less than 10 meters from acquifers which supply water to thousands of Costa Ricans. Most plantations have not carried out environmental impact studies of any kind. In the rare occasion that studies are carried out, they're often done months after planting has begun and they are at times fradulent. The impact study for one plantation on the Caribbean coast, for instance, spoke of bird species that don't even exist in Costa Rica but was nonetheless approved by the government. Friedman's claim that Costa Rica's water tax ensures that rivers upstream from agribusiness operations remain "pristine" is simply laughable. Instead, they're often chock full of chemicals as well as extensive sedimentation caused by runoff from pineapple, banana, and other plantations.

Thankfully, the people of Costa Rica have not taken abuse from the pineapple industry sitting down. Rather, communities around the country have mobilized to oppose further expansion of the industry and demand that its growth be subject to public control. Last year, several community groups formed an umbrella organization called the National Front of Sectors Affected by Pineapple Expansion. You can check out their terrific website here. Sergio Porras, head of the pineapple program at the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture has dismissed these activists as senseless "radicals" bent on destroying an industry which employs thousands of people. Despite being looked down upon by the national government, they have gotten the attention of many throughout the country and have successfully forced two municipalities in the Caribbean province of Limon to impose moratoria on new plantations.

Anyways, what I'm trying to say is that the reality of environmental policy in Costa Rica is a lot less pretty than Tom Friedman makes it out to be. Development and the environment do come into conflict and the result is often ugly. Fortunately, though, there are many dedicated activists throughout the country looking to change that. Here's to hoping that the National Front of Sectors Affected by Pineapple Expansion and other community groups enjoy more and more victories in the future.