In Box

A Guide to the Foreign-Policy Twitterati

Missing out on the Twitter Revolution? Here's a cheat sheet to get you started.

The best tweeters are like personal news curators, separating the wheat from the chaff, and fact from fiction. But how do you find the good ones? In part, it depends on what you're looking for and when -- Twitter is nothing if not dynamic. (How many people are still ardently following the guy from Abbottabad who live-tweeted the raid on Osama bin Laden?) Here's my guide to the global feeds most worth your time, day in and day out.

Among Middle East watchers, two of the most popular English-language tweeters are Sultan Al Qassemi (@SultanAlQassemi), a 33-year-old Emirati columnist who often translates breaking news from Arab satellite channels, and Andy Carvin (@acarvin), a senior strategist at NPR who began obsessively sharing videos and stories about the Arab uprisings in December and has barely come up for air since. Qassemi and Carvin, among others like Global Voices editor Amira Al Hussaini (@JustAmira) and the Guardian's Brian Whitaker (@Brian_Whit), serve as collecting points for more country-specific conversations.

The Middle East

The most developed local Twitter scene is Egypt, where a snarky group of young activists share stories, upload video clips and images of demonstrations, and debate the merits of various protest strategies. To get inside the youth revolution, follow @Sandmonkey, the unemployed son of a former ruling-party parliamentarian, and @Zeinobia, an anonymous female blogger whose mangled English prose masks a keen political mind. Many Egyptian Twitterati are upper-crust graduates of the American University in Cairo, but their discourse is unswervingly radical; felool -- slang for the "remnants" who still support Mubarak's regime -- are few and far between (they're more likely to be on Facebook). Former nuclear chief Mohamed @ElBaradei's tweets made big news during the revolution, and now even establishment figures, like telecom tycoon @NaguibSawiris, are using the platform to promote their views.

In Bahrain, tweeting has become a vicious, take-no-prisoners form of cyberwarfare, with prominent Shiite human rights activists, royal family members (including one who describes herself as "Certified Princess, Bombshell, Fashionista, & Make Up Guru. Kim Kardashian's Number One Fan"), and regime loyalists battling daily over that country's deep sectarian divide. Some good, honest brokers are @emile_hokayem, an analyst at the Manama office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Financial Times correspondent @simeonkerr, and Bahraini computer programmer @ehsankooheji.

Other Arab countries are a mixed bag. For Libya, your best bet is @feb17libya, as journalists tend to come and go while many pro-rebel feeds often pass along unsourced, unverified rumors. For Syria, human rights activist @wissamtarif is usually a reliable source of protest news. Tunisia's @nawaat was the go-to place for revolutionary videos; now it's a (mostly French) hub of democratic transition. Princeton University scholar @gregorydjohnsen is a must-read for Yemen; trilingual France-based expat Hisham Almiraat (@Hisham_G) is a good starting point for Morocco. Saudi Arabia has a huge and growing Twitter population, but the conversation is overwhelmingly in Arabic.

China

For China, start with William Andrew Albano, @NiuB -- the handle is an unprintable Mandarin slang term that more or less means "cool" -- a Taipei-based tech writer who has built a list of other feeds to follow. A gaggle of Western journalists -- including Canadian correspondent @markmackinnon; the acerbic @gadyepstein, the Beijing reporter for the Economist; @melissakchan of Al Jazeera English; and Edward Wong of the New York Times (@comradewong) -- mixes it up with activists and Chinese dissidents like Isaac Mao (@isaac) and Michael Anti (@mranti) to commiserate about the absurdity of reporting under China's heavy-handed one-party system.

Africa

Interested in Africa? Probably the best "follow" is the U.S. Embassy in South Africa (@USEmbPretoria), whose wide-ranging feed is a model of good Twitter etiquette and "21st-century diplomacy" (those of almost every other American mission abroad, unfortunately, are unspeakably dull). The Christian Science Monitor's Scott Baldauf (@baldaufji), veteran Africa hand Howard French (@hofrench), and Africa Express music project co-founder @ianbirrell are also great reads. 

Etc.

For all-purpose global tweets, political news, and some gossip too, try former State Department diplomats Anne-Marie Slaughter (@SlaughterAM) and @PJCrowley, think-tanker Andrew Exum (@abumuqawama), and journalists such as ABC News correspondent @jaketapper, Politico's Ben Smith (@benpolitico), and Wired's national security blog, @dangerroom. And, of course, if you're not following @FP_Magazine, you're truly going into the world blind.

In Box

An Unfair Deal

Fair trade is overrated.

If paying an extra buck or two for the "fair-trade" option at your local coffee shop makes you feel more virtuous about your place in the global economy, you're not alone. Ethical beans are big business: In 2010, the United States imported 108 million pounds of fair-trade-certified coffee -- purchased directly from small producers, who have to abide by agreed-upon standards including shorter hours and no child labor. That total represents 1,385 times more of the stuff than came into the U.S. in 1998. But does fair trade actually do anything to help the people who grow coffee escape poverty?

In Nicaragua -- a country that earns nearly a quarter of its export income from coffee -- many family farms participate in "organic" and "fair-trade" certification systems, under which they submit to inspections of their labor standards and environmental practices in exchange for higher prices for their beans. Unfortunately, according to results recently published by economists Tina Beuchelt and Manfred Zeller in Ecological Economics, higher prices only go so far. The certified beans bring in more money, but once you take into account increased production costs, such as bringing the maintenance of farms up to code and shorter labor hours, the final profit is no higher, and in many cases is actually lower: Some Nicaraguan fair-trade farmers were taking home as much as $55 less per harvest than their noncertified competitors. Worse, while 60.9 percent of the "unfair" coffee-producing households observed were below Nicaragua's official poverty line, 68.6 percent of the fair-trade farmers were. The results were even starker for organic farmers, with 71.3 percent below the poverty line.

So is fair trade a myth? Not necessarily, says Beuchelt, who has found much more promising results in Colombia, another top coffee producer. The difference between the two countries is that the Colombian farmers have much better access to roads, technology, and other infrastructure than their Nicaraguan counterparts, making it much easier and cheaper to comply with fair-trade rules. "There's still a need for government intervention," Beuchelt says. "Certification can't solve the basic development problems these countries have."

And nor, it seems, can paying for the more expensive latte at Starbucks. 

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