Friday, January 16, 2004

My fingerprints have been scanned, my mugshot has been snapped and I'm up and running in the nation's capital.

News-wise, all eyes are on Iowa, scene of the presidential caucuses on Monday. For the next few days, the Hawkeye State will be the centre of attention.

The news channels here have wound themselves into a frenzy of almost non-stop coverage of the upcoming caucuses. They're picking over every statement made by Howard Dean, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt and John Kerry, pausing only to get even more hysterical over Michael Jackson's arraignment.

Watching CNN, Fox or MSNBC it's difficult to believe that the presidential election is still 10 months away. Vote 2004/America Decides/You Decide 2004 (depending on your choice of news network) is already in full swing.

At the moment, the race for Iowa looks too close to call, with all four front runners virtually neck and neck in the polls.

I've got to mention an article by Nicholas D. Kristof I read in the Herald Tribune on the flight over here. Kristof visits Phnom Penh -- and reaches some staggeringly wrong-headed conclusions.

He uses the case of a teenage Cambodian garbage scavenger to sing the praises of sweatshops for raising living standards for workers in some of the poorest countries in the world. Kristof's argument:

"The fundamental problem in poor countries of Africa and Asia is not that sweatshops exploit too many workers; it's that they don't exploit enough."

Clearly, working in a Cambodian garment factory is preferable to picking over the contents of a stinking rubbish dump. But before we congratulate the factory owners for their enlightened employment practices, it's worth remembering that a BBC Panorama investigation uncovered sweatshop working conditions and child labour at a Cambodian textiles factory.

It seems that Nicholas Kristof is becoming the sweatshop owners' biggest cheerleader. His latest column is a virtual re-write of a piece he penned about Pakistani sweatshops in 2002.


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