Cotton, King of Cancun

With the world on the warpath against farm subsidies, U.S. cotton was ripe for the pickin' at the WTO summit in Cancun. So why did the $3.2 billion subsidy program survive the talks unscathed? It wasn't due to the forgiving nature of the world's other major cotton-growers, who still loathe the U.S. system for jeopardizing the livelihood of farmers in impoverished areas of the world. Rather, some skillful politicking by U.S. lobby group the National Cotton Council, a.k.a. King Cotton, helped keep the money flowing.

King Cotton has long worked Capitol Hill to guarantee subsidies for some 25,000 U.S. farmers. The money helps sustain some of the poorest regions of the southern United States by propping up large farms that bankers, dealers, farmhands and equipment salesmen rely on to survive. Last year U.S. cotton farmers landed roughly five times as much in government payments per acre as grain farmers.

On the eve of Cancun, and at the behest of King Cotton, three U.S. senators from the cotton belt wrote a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick asking that cotton not be singled out for subsidy cuts, and that any cuts be negotiated only as part of a broad agreement on agriculture. That's exactly what Zoellick told ministers from West Africa in Cancun, knowing full well how unlikely such a deal is. The Europeans haven't shown any more willingness to cut back on their own massive subsidies than the Americans.

Coincidence? "It would be a mistake to say the cotton lobby influences the U.S. Trade Representative's office," says a USTR official. "But clearly they have powerful allies in Congress." And now they've got even angrier enemies around the world, too.


Too Tight With Terror?

How does Al-Jazeera keep getting hold of those Osama bin Laden videos? Editors at the Arab TV network won't say. But questions persist about just how tight some of its correspondents may be with terrorists: an investigation in Spain has led to the imprisonment of a top reporter on charges that he conspired with some of that country's Qaeda suspects.

The reporter, Tayssir Alouni, a native of Syria, gained brief fame two years ago when he got the first post-9/11 bin Laden tape. Internal Spanish police documents show that Alouni, 48, has been under scrutiny since at least early 2000, when phone wiretaps revealed he was in "frequent and continuous" contact with Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, the suspected leader of Al Qaeda's Spanish cell. Before moving to Afghanistan in January 2000 to open up the Al-Jazeera bureau there, Alouni called Yarkas to let him know he was leaving. "It sounded like he was informing this fact to a superior," reads one report. Yarkas talked to Alouni about carrying cash to Mohamed Bahaiah--a fellow Syrian whom Spanish authorities consider a key Qaeda moneyman.

Last week Spanish investigating judge Baltasar Garzon charged that Alouni took a total of $4,500 to terrorists in Afghanistan on two occasions. Alouni's lawyers say he did take smaller sums to Syrians abroad. But some of the most damning evidence against Alouni, according to the police reports, was a 2001 visit--upon his return to Spain--from Yarkas and Mahmoun Darkanzanli, a German-based businessman who Western intel officials believe was a key financier for Mohammed Atta's Hamburg cell. Alouni contends that he had returned to Spain simply to visit his wife.

Al-Jazeera editors insist that Alouni is being persecuted because he refused to cooperate when Western intel agencies asked him to become an informant. Other ex-colleagues say he never expressed the slightest sympathy for Al Qaeda. But Judge Garzon doesn't buy it. After interrogating Alouni, he ordered he be held indefinitely in a maximum-security prison.


Educating Arnold

With less than a month before California's Oct. 7 recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger's getting a crash course in government: tutorials from Warren Buffett and George Schultz and coaching on issues like workers' compensation reform and irrigation subsidies from the likes of former governor Pete Wilson and other California experts. "Arnold's gotten a Ph.D. in a few weeks," claims his strategist, George Gorton.

He'll need it. Schwarzenegger still trails Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante in some polls. And it's becoming increasingly clear that he will have to flex more than his personality to win California voters. A Los Angeles Times survey last week found that 67 percent of likely voters thought Schwarzenegger "tried to avoid taking positions on issues."

This week, Schwarzenegger will reach out to women voters by appearing on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" with his wife, Maria Shriver. He also plans to propose that California create a "hydrogen highway," committing $60 million in public and private funds to construct a network of hydrogen fueling stations along major interstates. And he hopes to unveil one of his controversial Humvees, which he is having retrofitted to run on hydrogen. That hydrogen could be more symbolic than Schwarzenegger imagines; when he takes part in his first and only debate of the campaign on Sept. 24, he'll need to prove that he's not just full of hot air.


Reopening Old Wounds

Trouble is brewing again in Turkey's volatile southeast. Earlier this month, the Kurdistan Worker's Party, a separatist guerrilla group known by the acronym PKK/KADEK, announced the end of a ceasefire declared in 1999 when its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was imprisoned after years on the run. The reason, according to many Turkish analysts, lies next door in Iraq, where Ankara is pushing the United States to move against the 5,000 remaining PKK rebels holed up in on the slopes of Kandil Mountain. Last week a U.S. delegation arrived in Ankara to hash out details for a possible assault; one option on the table is a U.S. air assault backed by Turkish commandos on the ground.

Right now Washington has its hands full in Iraq, but if such an operation does begin to take shape, it could re-ignite the PKK's bloody insurgency. That in turn would almost certainly trigger a brutal response by Turkey's security forces, which view certain Kurdish populated regions of Turkey as off-limits to Ankara's civilian politicians. It would also derail progress on pro-Kurdish reforms being pushed by the ruling AK Party and the European Union. Some civilian officials argue that the PKK has run out of friends--years of careful Turkish diplomacy have persuaded the Syrians, the Greeks and the Iranians to drop their support for the guerrillas--and lacks the manpower to start a terror campaign. For their own sake, they'd better be right.


Runs on AA Bacteria

The compost heap in the backyard may have more potential than we ever imagined. Scientists from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, led by microbiology professor Derek Lovley, have discovered a bacterium that's astoundingly good at converting sugars into electricity. Thanks to its unique metabolism, the Rhodoferax ferrireducens can transform more than 80 percent of a sugar grain's electrons into energy.

Don't throw away your MP3 batteries just yet, though--it takes the prototype bacteria battery several days to convert just a spoonful of sugar into electricity. Then there's the problem of power; the prototype generates only enough juice to fire up a calculator. But Lovley and colleagues are working on these glitches, searching for more efficient materials to use as electrodes and utilizing nanotechnology to get more surface area on the electrode, resulting in more power.

If perfected, the bacterial battery could well find many takers. Already, the U.S. Department of Defense has expressed interest in using the device to power its monitoring devices on the ocean floor; Lovley says that could happen as soon as a year from now. In the next five years or so, the bacteria could be used to convert organic waste into electricity. In much of the developing world, where some domestic waste is already converted into methane gas for stoves, the bacteria could be used to generate low-level power, breaking the waste down into sugars and converting them into electricity. And the bacteria could even be used as low-level chargers for other batteries, like those used in mobile phones. Yes, someday we'll all take great pleasure in knowing that the annoying person yelling into his cell phone gets his power from a pile of cow dung.


The Buzz Begins

The Oscar race began this month (yes, already) with the launch of the 28th Toronto International Film Festival. The annual industry gathering--more than 700 critics and journalists attend, too--is a bellwether for the Oscars. Last year "Far From Heaven," "The Quiet American," "Talk to Her," "Frida" and "Bowling for Columbine" all made a splash and later earned Oscar nods. But this year it's even more important: Oscar night has been moved up a month, to Feb. 29, so positive reviews coming out of the 10-day festival could carry a film right onto Academy ballots. "The shortening of the window increases the sense of urgency," says Nancy Utley, president of marketing at Fox Searchlight. "It's going to be noisier than ever."

The buzz has already started on "The Human Stain," based on the Philip Roth novel, starring Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins; "21 Grams," with Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, and Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation." The festival has a particularly good track record of showcasing performances that go on to garner acclaim. Val Kilmer's starring role as porn star John Holmes in "Wonderland" should generate some heat. Ditto Meg Ryan's turn in the sexual thriller "In the Cut" and Toni Collette's in "Japanese Story."


Coming To Kabul

The Taliban may still be hiding out in the hills, but already the backpacking set is jetting into Afghanistan. So it's no wonder the guidebook industry is getting in on the deal. The idea for "Kabul: The Bradt Mini Guide" was dreamed up by journalist Dominic Medley and NGO employee Jude Barrand in the hope of creating a survival handbook for new arrivals. The duo at first simply put together photocopied pamphlets of embassy contacts, U.N. office addresses and top guesthouses, distributing them free to the city's street children, who could then sell them and make a quick buck. They sold fast, and soon Bradt Travel Guides swooped in with an offer to publish the books, providing Kabul's kids continue to sell them to the expatriate community and new-arrival tourists. So, what are the new travel guides like? NEWSWEEK sneaked a peek and they're not half bad. The guide gives practical tips on security ("Be extra careful walking or driving around at night"), steers readers to the hot hotels (the Mustafa and Intercontinental) and even reveals where to buy NEWSWEEK (the Habibi Book Centre "halfway down Chicken Street"). The index reveals almost everything a foreigner might want to know about Kabul and its environs. Except, of course, where Osama bin Laden is hiding out. That'd be too easy, right?


Share and Share Alike

Car sharing debuted in the 1980s in Switzerland and later gained mileage in Germany and Japan, where governments partly subsidized these ecofriendly ventures that allow urbanites to rent cars by the hour rather than taking public transportation or clogging up traffic arteries with their own vehicles. Now it's catching on in America, the land of the SUV. There are 15 car-sharing organizations in about 20 U.S. cities, with double last year's membership. Some are environmentally minded non-profits, like City CarShare in the Bay Area. The biggest growth has been in two companies going national: Boston's Zipcar and Seattle's Flexcar.

The key to U.S. success has been inspiring a sense of ownership. The companies rely on their members not only to return the cars to neighborhood parking spots on time but to help keep them clean and gassed. People police each other, and social pressure seems to work, especially as the members get to know each other at the occasional party thrown by the companies.

But there has been one hiccup for the U.S. car-share industry: turning a profit. Car- share companies are already trying to expand through deals with universities and city transit systems and other businesses. Given the Bush administration's evident lack of interest in things green, they'll have to keep thinking outside the box. After all, it's likely to be some time before U.S. government subsidies fill their fuel tanks.

Q&A: Donald Trump

Everyone seems to be doing reality TV shows these days. So why not mogul Donald Trump? On his upcoming show, "The Apprentice," contestants get to work for him, and he gets to fire them one by one until he picks a winner. Trump spoke with NEWSWEEK's Nicki Gostin about reality TV and his reality.

Do looks count for the contestants on your show?

Well, looks always count with me, but I'm not going to be the sole proprietor of what happens. If it was up to me you'd probably end up with 16 supermodels.

Will they have to pick up your dry cleaning?

No, but they will be doing things that are very unbelievable.


Well, I can't tell you. But I'll give you an example. We may rent 16 stores in a really rough neighborhood and give a store to each one of the contestants and say, "Good luck, folks," and see who can make the most money at the end of the week.

How much of your success can be attributed to your having the perfect tycoon's last name?

It is an interesting last name, isn't it? I do have a good last name. It really is a perfect name. The trump card, the winning card.

I've heard that you're germphobic. How many times a day do you wash your hands?

As often as possible.

Your girlfriend Melania is Slovenian. Do you dig chicks with foreign accents?

No, I dig people with great personalities.