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Afghanistan's Mineral Wealth: An End to Problems, or the Beginning of New Ones?

Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations on the earth, where the income per capita is only $446 per year. So when the US Department of Defense announced that Afghanistan may be holding more than a trillion dollars of mineral wealth under its soil, the future prospects of Afghanistan suddenly seemed a little brighter.  Some have even stated that Afghanistan could be the Saudi Arabia of minerals.

Great news, right? Not necessarily. First and foremost, Afghanistan will have to stabilize to even attract foreign investors. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, Afghanistan, with a population of 27.2 million people, saw $300 million in foreign direct investment in 2008. That might sound like a lot, but Trinidad and Tobago, a much smaller country of only 1.3 million  inhabitants attracted over $3 billion in that same year. Even if foreign countries and businesses eventually decide to heavily invest in Afghanistan (and that’s a big if) some examples from around the world show that an abundance of natural resources can create a lot of problems. These problems are often referred to as “the resource curse”. Nowhere is the resource curse more evident than in Africa.

Nigeria’s resource curse is synonymous with its oil problems. Nigeria’s political instability and history of systematic corruption has left much of its oil wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. Rather than being a force for development throughout the country, Nigeria’s oil wealth has far too often fallen prey to government mismanagement or worse - outright graft. Corruption isn’t Nigeria’s only oil problem. Rebel groups in the oil rich Niger River Delta resent both the government and foreign oil companies who ignore the environmental and social problems that come with drilling. Throughout the years, these rebel groups have kidnapped foreign oil workers, and attacked oil rigs making investment by foreign countries less attractive.


Elsewhere on the continent, the mining of diamonds have fueled deadly conflicts and activities of warlords throughout Africa. Charles Taylor, who faces charges of war crimes at The Hague, used diamond exports to fund his support of insurgency groups in Sierra Leone while he was the president of Liberia. Thankfully, the practice appears to be on the decline due to sanctions by the UN, increased international visibility, and a conflict-free diamond certification process.

While these problems may sound unique to a continent continually ravaged by war and prone to corruption, they also exist in abundance in Afghanistan. It’s not hard to imagine mineral wealth squandered by an already corrupt Afghan government. It’s equally easy to see a future in which minerals are used to fund tribal conflicts or even aid terror groups. It would be wonderful to believe that mineral wealth could create jobs, raise the standard of living, and solve many of Afghanistan’s problems. But in its current state, it may be more likely that the minerals would just create new ones.



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Soccer: America's Late to the Party

From cafes in Paris, to street markets in Nairobi, soccer (or football as its known in much of the rest of the world) is the topic of conversation for millions around the world. FIFA, soccer’s organizing body has enlarged the number of participating nations from 13 at the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 to 32 in the 2010 games. The hosting of the World Cup in South Africa is testament to the growing accessibility that is soccer around the world. No other sport has as large of a reach as soccer, and it provides opportunities for players from around the world to excel. Soccer is perhaps the most widely globalized aspect of world culture.

So why hasn’t it caught on in America? Soccer is perhaps the last real example of American isolation. . Sport is the one area in which American influence isn’t truly worldwide.  America’s national pastimes, baseball and football have little reach across the globe. Although baseball and basketball stars have seen modest successes overseas, their fame is much more limited than global stars like Christian Ronaldo or David Beckham. It’s telling that a German, Ghanaian, and and a Guatemalan can all relate on a basic level about a subject that most Americans have little to no real awareness of. In a world where globalization has tied even the most improbable nations together, America stands alone yet again.

This isn’t to say soccer is a completely foreign to Americans; it’s just that it’s viewed in a much different light. In a large number of nations around the globe, soccer is the national sport. In America, it’s best known as a popular afterschool sport for school aged children. For much of America’s history, soccer has been an afterthought, trailing far behind baseball, football and basketball in terms of commercial popularity. The fact that millions of American children play soccer hasn’t quite translated to enthusiasm for major league soccer events.

That doesn’t mean Americans will always only associate soccer with AYSO (American Youth Soccer Association) games and SUV driving soccer moms. The phenomenon that is soccer is beginning to seep into the American psyche. The World Cup being staged in the United States in 1994, certainly helped bring Americans more awareness of the sport. The arrival of highly paid European players to the US’s Major League Soccer (including David Beckham’s $250 million five-year contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy), show that investors believe that soccer can be a winner in America.


Whether you’re a sport fan or not, it might a good sign that more and more Americans are following soccer. It might help us become more connected with the world, or at least give us greater exposure to those outside our borders. Sports have always been a source of quiet diplomacy. America should use every chance it gets to engage other nations through peaceful means, and soccer is a great way to do that. Of course, soccer won’t bring world peace overnight but it’s a worthy goal.



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North Korea's Dangerous Deceptions

On the latest Global Pulse episode, Korea Family Feud, host Erin Coker reviews world reaction to rising tensions between North and South Korea. Watch the episode below and share your thoughts!

With a simple YouTube search you can find hundreds of North Korean karaoke videos featuring catchy pop tunes. Some show scenes of young couples on dates eating ice cream. Others highlight hydroelectric dams. Oddly, some mix both in the same video. The most popular of these videos is "Pangapsumnida." It displays scenes of naval and air prowess spliced with images of families reuniting under North Korean flags. The bizarre imagery plays out as a sort of Northern fantasy in which Korea is once again reunited -- as a socialist Korea, of course. Watching "Pangapsumnida" is both fascinating and eerie. Who knew a song sponsored by a brutal dictatorship could be so catchy? It's eerie because the video allows the viewer to temporarily forget the horror that is modern North Korea.

That suspension of reality is perhaps North Korea's biggest export. Desperate to sugarcoat the bleak reality of successive famines and international scorn, North Korea's propaganda machine pumps out some of the most elaborate deceptions on earth. Consider for example, the Arirang Mass Games. Imagine an Olympic opening ceremony in which every reference to sport is replaced with odes to the Great Leader and scenes of the industrial and technological wonders possible under socialism. Regardless of the contrived message, Arirang is quite possibly the most spectacular show on earth. It features up to 100,000 gymnasts and performers moving with razor-sharp precision.

North Korea's deception machine doesn't stop at catchy songs and gymnastics routines. It extends all the way to its own Potemkin village, Gijeong-dong. Gijeong-dong is the only urban area in North Korea visible from the South Korean border. It features a small assembly of concrete buildings and the world's largest flagpole. What it apparently does not include are actual residents. Although no one can be entirely sure what happens at Gijeong-dong (commonly called Propaganda Village), many believe the village is actually unlivable and that the buildings are hollow. Electric lights turn on in unison as if by a flip of a switch, and few people walk around during the day.

Luckily, very few outside of North Korea are fooled by the deception. North Korea's belligerent behavior and abysmal human rights record continue to earn it well deserved scorn from around the globe. While it's difficult for a westerner to swallow any of the outlandish propaganda North Korea feeds us, it might amaze us that we too might be influenced by more subtle propaganda every day, whether by advertisements or our own societies. Propaganda can be powerful. Images and sounds stick to the mind easier than words do, regardless of how odious we find the message. If you don't believe me, try watching “Pangapsumnida” a few times. I guarantee you’ll start humming it when you least expect it.



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We Don't Know our Neighbor

On the latest Global Pulse episode, host Erin Coker reviews world coverage of how the cross-border drug war is affecting the United States and Mexico. Watch the episode below and share your thoughts!

Growing up I never lived more than an hour and a half’s driving distance away from Mexico. I’ve never been there. Although the geographical distance was short, Mexico felt a million miles away. I suspect I’m not the only American who feels this way.

That’s not to say I don’t know anything about Mexican culture. I grew up in Moreno Valley, a far-flung suburb of Los Angeles where nearly half of the population is of Hispanic heritage. Yet my brushes with Mexican culture turned out to be…well, more American than anything else. I vividly remember the tragic death of Tejana singer Selena being a huge news event where I lived. Selena sang in Spanish phonetically, because she didn’t speak it until she learned it much later in her career. Her primary fame was here in the US: immortalized in an English language film starring the Puerto Rican-American Jennifer Lopez.

Mexico in the American imagination is either a play land or warzone, not a place where people live and work. Americans who visit Mexico on cruise ships and spring break also get an incomplete picture. Outside of the resorts and beaches, many real Mexicans live in conditions unseen by casual tourists. If we don’t try to understand Mexico beyond Taco Bell and Cancun, and the only exposure we have to Mexicans and Mexico is through our stereotypes, we’ll continue to treat our southern neighbor as an offensive caricature.

With drug related violence crossing the border, and the never ending debate about immigration, we really need to know what were talking about when we deal with Mexico. It’s not just that America owes it to Mexico to better understand it (we do), it’s also that we owe it to ourselves.



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California's Budget Crisis and Higher Education

On the latest Global Pulse episode, host Erin Coker reviews world coverage of the budget crises in both California and Greece. Watch the episode below and share your thoughts!
Going to the DMV is never a joyful experience. Due to the budget crisis the trip has become even more excruciating. The State of California has closed DMV offices on the first and third Friday of every month in an effort to save money. This means the offices are more crowded on operating days. This also means it takes even longer for the staff to call your magic number. This might not sound like much, but when you’ve been flipping through a tattered three month-old edition of Better Home and Gardens for two hours, it can feel like a lifetime.

Californians are having to learn to get used to these inconveniences. The budget crisis has affected virtually every interaction citizens have with the state. Bus schedules are slower. State employees are getting their salaries cut. And while all Californians are affected to one degree or another, perhaps the most impacted are students of the state's public universities.

When I started attending San Francisco State in 2004, semester student fees for residents was $1,256.00. In the past six years that number has nearly doubled to $2,370.00. The problem isn’t just that students are now paying more for their education, but that they’re getting less in return. Luckily I had finished school by the end of 2008, before most of the effects of the budget cuts had really been felt. However, for many of my friends still studying at SFSU the budget cuts have taken a toll.

Nicole Dixon is a Cell and Molecular Biology major who started work on her degree in 2004. She’s found it impossible to complete her degree within four years due to budget cuts. “I haven’t been able to get the classes I need each semester. When I did get into classes it was because I had to fight my way in and plead with professors to let me crash them.” She’s also noticed that the budget cuts have affected the quality of her education, “We’ve had fewer classes. Professors have to get all the material crammed into a semester with five less instruction days due to furloughs.”

Even the classrooms themselves have been impacted by the budget crisis. “There aren’t enough chairs in classes. Professors won’t print handouts anymore. There aren’t even markers in some classes to write on the whiteboard,” Dixon said. When asked if she would do it all again she remarked, “Knowing that I couldn’t graduate in at least six years seems unacceptable for a four-year degree. I would have rather gone somewhere where I knew I could get my classes. I thought I’d be in dental school by now.” Nicole isn’t alone. Many Californians are beginning to look for education elsewhere, as the public universities in California continue to face budget cuts.

With attendance being capped at many Cal State Universities, many students don’t even have access to the educational opportunity I had only a few years ago. As bad as California’s economy is now, how will California look twenty years down the line when it doesn’t have the same educated workforce that made it such an innovative place to begin with? The deficit is huge and cuts have to be made, but education is an important investment. It’s not only an investment for students who want better jobs, but also for a state that must continue to nurture its human capital.



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