Arab E-Waste Conspiracy Theory

Usama Bin Vulcan Sighted

Americans sometimes snicker at the "conspiracy theories" which circulate in the Arab media, or on "the street".  Fareed Zakaria and Tom Friedman are pretty good at distilling them.

Here's a real life conspiracy, involving government, computer manufacturers, dictatorships, and "environmentalists", working to keep the Arab Spring under-boot. 

  1. E-Waste Advocates claimed that 80%-90% of the used computers sold to Africa, Mideast, and Asia were burned in primitive conditions, ignoring photos of talented Geeks of Color, ignoring cell phone repairs, etc... showing photos of children sitting on modest piles of junk.
  2. Original Equipment Manufacturers, wanting to sell more new equipment, paid for shredding investments
  3. E-Waste Advocates asked Shredders to pay them a percentage of what they shred, in return for continuing the message that "ewaste" was 80-90% illegal and bad
  4. Arab dictatorships cited the E-Waste Watchdog press as an excuse to seize working used computers, the only ones the average Egyptian, Tunisian, Iranian, etc. can afford.
  5. USA Shredder who donates to E-Waste Watchdog also donates to Obama campaign.  Soon after, EPA "Environmental Justice" regulators begin implementing laws to impede exports
  6. USA congressional representatives who receive $$ from Original Equipment Manufacturers (e.g. Green in Texas) draft laws banning export for repair (get this - UNLESS the shipment is from the OEMs! Read it!)
  7. E-Steward Watchdog standards are written into the first draft of VERMONT law, specifically targeting Fair Trade Recycling companies in a way which benefits the Shredding company from out of state.
Perverse Outcomes of the "War on Reuse" Conspiracy:

PCs to Arabs Result in Osama Bin Spock?
As in any prohibition, buyers in developing markets have fewer choice of supplier of used computers, supply chain gets worse and more corrupt, and more primitive burning results... though not nearly as much as poster-child-campaigns suggest.

However, the successful used computer smuggling nevertheless gets Arab college students onto Facebook, Twitter, and other internet, resulting in exposure of the Conspiracy Theory.

The Arab college students have about as much in common with OBL (Usama Bin Laden) and Al Qaeda as 1960s Ohio State University protesters had to do with Christian Fundamentalists who were unhappy during the same period.  Jerry Falwell was protesting something at the same time as Bob Dylan.   The automatic equation of protesters as being "in cahoots" - that's the Conservative American Conspiracy Theory.

If terrorists are unhappy with dictators, the Muslim Brotherhood is unhappy with dictators, recycling Zabaleen Christains are unhappy with dictators, and urban Arab college geeks are unhappy with dictators... they must be in it together?

Geeks don't like junk computers mixed into the loads they buy.  Banning them from buying computers is throwing the internet baby out with the cyber bathwater.

Actual data from in-depth study of used electronics exports to Africa reveals - surprise, surprise - only 15-25% junk.  Why would Africans pay for stuff to burn?  Fair trade incentives would create an incentive for proper recycling of the "residual fraction"... but seizure of working equipment (and bribes and corruption in customs - the source of the Arab and African willingness-to-believe Conspiracy labels is that they are lied to and bribed every day) takes away the income which could be used to properly recycle the "fallout".

Which Conspiracy Theory will you buy today?

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