Sunday, October 13, 2013

Weekend propaganda barrage

Even though keeping up with the news is a matter of clicking a couple of keys on a laptop any time, anywhere, there's nothing like settling into a favourite chair with the weekend papers and a pot of coffee at hand.

There is an embarrassing bounty of bullshit to shovel through this weekend.

Try this scoop by "international children's rights activist" turned journalist Craig Kielburger, who honoured Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the We Day his NGO put on a couple of weeks ago and managed to get an interview out of the occasion, an interview featured in the Globe and Mail this weekend.

Here's Kielburger's backgrounder to the story;

A decade ago, Liberia emerged from 14 years of civil war to become a relatively stable democracy.

Wow! Just like that!

Despite starting five years late, it has already achieved three of the eight Millenium Development Goals set by the United Nations in 2000; gender equality, combating HIV and AIDS, and building partnerships.

Well that's certainly good news, but one might ask what is meant by "already achieved"? Is Craig telling us Liberia has achieved gender equality? The softballs lobbed at Sirleaf touch briefly on corruption while tactfully steering clear of the corruption scandals that have involved her allies and immediate family, and assure us that President Sirleaf must be a great leader because Hillary Clinton gave her a nutcracker.

Get it?

First female African pres gets a nutcracker from Hillary?... oh, we've got the patriarchy on the run now!

The Globe also has a multi-page feature on the latest iteration of the White Man's Burden, Bangladeshi garment workers, titled "The true cost of a T-shirt." Ironically, the article never gets around to clarifying what that cost might be, but we do get to meet Canadian entrepreneur extraordinaire Bruce Rockowitz, who has made himself a billionaire by climbing to the pinnacle of the mountain of middlemen who stand between the $38/month garment worker in Dhaka and the shops in your local mall.

Not one to let the Globe and Mail out-guilt them, the Sunday Star piles on with a front page story on the plight of Bangladeshi garment workers that ends with this plea from one of the $38/month folks; I just wish people in the north paid a bit more for your clothing... maybe if you paid just a bit more, we could have a good life here.

Well maybe, but maybe not. There's a reason why "globalization" and "free trade" have evolved a virtual army of brokers and sub-brokers and middlemen between the producer and the consumer, and that is to blur the lines of responsibility when ugly stories inevitably leak out. Without wholesale reform of the supply chain, any increase in the price of Bangladeshi garments will end up in the already bulging pockets of the Bruce Rockowitz types, not in the pockets of the $38 a month people.

If Dov Charney can bypass this entire architecture of exploitation and make clothes in America while paying workers more in a day than what they get in two months in Bangladesh, others can too.

And of course Malala is in the news. By now everyone knows Malala's story, how she parlayed a bullet in the head into A-list status across the developed world. It's a story we love because it throws into such stark relief the profound darkness of the primitive Taliban when contrasted to the freedoms and democracy we revel in here in the Nations of Virtue.

While she is a compelling story, I think comparisons to Malcolm X and Mandela are wildly premature. Sort of like Obama's Nobel Prize.

Then again, look at the company Alice Munro finds herself in after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here's Pam Belluck writing in my New York Times International Weekly, the sixteen page supplement that the Sunday Star tosses our way to give us backwoods bumpkins a taste of World Class journalism; ...Chekhov or Alice Munro will help you navigate new social territory...

At 82 Alice Munro has become an overnight sensation, claiming her place in the canon right there alongside Anton Chekhov, and it's all thanks to that Nobel selection committee.

Those writers at the NYT have some other good stuff for us. Friedman's got some timely ruminations on Iran, speculating that "it can't keep it's people isolated forever."

That's odd. Junior is working at a restaurant owned by an Iranian family. They travel back and forth regularly. Just this week there's half a dozen of the extended family over on a visit. They send money out of Iran and money back. They are no more isolated than the tens of thousands of Iranian students who are studying at universities across the western world.

The view of Iranians as oppressed and isolated is of course far more comforting for the narrative Friedman and the NYT want to maintain. Facts can be so darned inconvenient.

I'm also treated to a curious story by Rod Nordland titled "Exhibit on Atrocities Awakens Afghans."
I was momentarily taken aback that the NYT would open a discussion about our atrocities in the country, but not to worry; the story is about Soviet atrocities back in the 1970s. That's what's awakening the Afghans!

That's a lot of reading, a lot of thinking, a lot of propaganda for a weekend.

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