Tag Archives: Globalization

Lack of Free Media and Free Elections: Subtext to Missing Malaysia Jet

Loads of people are speculating as to what happened to MH370.  The speculation has so dominated the news that satirist Andy Borowitz noted CNN APOLOGIZES FOR BRIEFLY AIRING NON-FLIGHT 370 STORY.

All joking aside, while the media report every bit of information put out by the Malaysian government (and others), the shortcomings of that information are clear.

The leadership of the primary countries initially involved in the search — Malaysia, Vietnam and China — were hesitant to reveal information at first, partly because — as we all know — initial information often wrong needs to be corrected or fine-tuned.

In the end, for these governments to admit they made errors could undermine their authority. You see, none of these three governments rule by the consent of the people. Media are strictly regulated. Independent sources of information to challenge and question the authorities are virtually non-existent. And opposition leaders are tossed in jail.

The New York Times touched on this issue — at least as far as Malaysia goes — March 12: Amid Search for Plane, Malaysian Leaders Face Rare Scrutiny.

The article points to all the factors that made — make — the Malaysian government nervous about their current situation in the international spotlight:

  1. Authoritarian laws that keep the opposition in check
  2. Policies that favor the ethnic Malays
  3. A patronage system that excludes Indians and Chinese from policy positions. (Combined these groups constitute a majority)

What was missed in the article is the highly censored media.

The Malaysian government has never had to face hard questions from local reporters. And if they get questioned too fiercely by opposition parties, the leadership of those parties find themselves in jail such as Anwar Ibraham and Karpal Singh.

Malaysia is listed as having media that are Not Free by Freedom House. As are China and Vietnam.

Perhaps there is nothing that any country could do in the search for MH370. What is clear, however, is that the the initial three main players in the search were unable to deal with the situation, partially out of fear of being corrected later. Maybe they figured that questioning the veracity of one agency could lead to questions about other agencies and eventually the government itself.

It is odd how countries with no fair elections or free media fear any questions about the effectiveness of government agencies. (Look at the NYT article to see how the Malaysian government reacted.)

So that is the subtext to the search for MH370: The lack of free media and unfettered political opposition makes the governments look ineffective. In other words, it makes them less stable. And so, information is fragmented or withheld out of fear.

On another note:

As noted above, the Borowitz Report mentioned at the top pointed out how the US media have been all over the story. That piece was satire. But nothing, Borowitz could think of could have matched what CNN’s Don Lemon did. This was perhaps an all-time low for CNN when Lemon wondered if the disappearance was related to supernatural forces

UPDATE (3/19 18:32)

Okay, Fox News beat CNN for silliness.

Fox News host Bill Hemmer went on about how long it is taking to find the plane. He cited 100 years for the Titanic and 2,000 years for Noah’s Ark.

Yep. Hemmer cited a long-debunked claim that Noah’s Ark was found in Turkey. (Even Fox News knows the Ark story was a fake.)

The competition between CNN and Fox continues.

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Filed under Asia, Censorship, China, Connections, Freedom of access, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Trade & education: Foreign and domestic connections

Gallup released a study that showed a majority of Americans see view foreign trade as a positive, with 54% seeing opportunities for economic growth through exports, while only 34% see a threat from imports.

While there are some partisan differences in how trade is seen, the real divide is in education levels. The survey showed  college graduates and those with postgraduate education are more likely to see foreign trade as an opportunity for growth than those with no college or even some college education.

Trade as opportunity by education

What does this mean?

  1. It means that at least more people are seeing that international connections — via trade — are important.
  2. It shows that a large group of the American people are either not receiving or are not processing information about international trade.

To be sure, the current international trade situation does indeed hurt those without higher education.

The United States primarily exports agriculture products (and farmers need a lot of education to keep doing their job) and high-end finished products. Most of the low-skill related jobs that can be exported have long left the U.S. market. So it is to be expected that those with less education would feel more threatened than those who have higher education and advanced work skills.

Part of the debate over trade is not as simple as “They are shipping our jobs overseas” and “Exports=jobs.” Both are true but there is a lot of grey between these points.

Companies will always go to where they can get the best economic value for their product. If that means it is cheaper to make something in China or Vietnam and ship it to the States than to make it in the States, they will do that. (Interestingly, there is a big move by companies to move back to the US so they can be closer to their market. Again, unfortunately for the less educated, less trained workers, these returning companies are using robotic and other high-tech methods to be competitive. That means higher-skills are needed for the new American jobs.)

And if higher skills are needed, then higher education — even if it is a two-year community college program — is needed for the workforce.

So what is needed in the trade debate is some discussion of this basic point: For America to compete in the global market, education is a key element.

Unfortunately this is missed by the loud proponents of free trade and loud no trade advocates. And it is missed by too many reporters covering the issue.

Too often trade stories focus on the backroom dealings at Doha or just the numbers. These are simple stories that do not connect to the people on Main Street. Likewise, no effort seems to be made to connect issues that appear domestic  – such as the need for more access to training and higher education — with the international story.

Trade is an international issue as well as a domestic issue. And because American exports depend on an educated and well-trained workforce, that makes education an international issue as well as a domestic one.


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Filed under Connections, Story Ideas, Trade

Uganda’s anti-gay law has roots in USA

Sometimes finding a local-global connection is not hard.

Today Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signed a law into effect that threatens jail terms up to life for anyone having gay sex. The law also allows authorities to toss into jail anyone failing to report any knowledge of gay activity. (Uganda’s Museveni signs anti-gay bill, defying donors, Washington)

On the bright side, the new law does not threaten death, as the first iteration in 2009 did.

And where did this great idea come from?

Well it seems that the religious right from the United States have moved their fight against “the gay agenda” from the States — where they are losing their bigoted/homophobic battle — to Africa, where already conservative societies are ready to show how tough they are.

Back in 2010, Jeffrey Gettleman reported for the New York Times on the influence of the U.S. religious right in creating  the atmosphere for the original legislation — that provided the death penalty for gays — to the version just signed into law. (Americans’ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push)

There is even a documentary of how the religious right pushed their agenda in Uganda: God Loves Uganda.

The BBC has a great piece from December 2013 about the law along with a map showing the dismal state of gay rights in Africa. (Ugandan MPs pass life in jail anti-homosexual law)

Besides activities of individual churches in Uganda, one of the main driving forces in setting the atmosphere for the legislation is a group known simply as The Family. One less kind term is The Christian Mafia(C Street politics: The Family sponsors death for homosexuals in UgandaThe Family is based out of a C Street house in Washington, DC and includes many of the power brokers in the city. 

And there is Jeff Sharlet’s account in his book The Family and in articles. (HarpersStraight Man’s Burden: The American roots of Uganda’s anti-gay persecutions)

Once the scope of the legislation was fully realized — and most likely the political fallout at home — The Family and many of its members came out against “Kill Gays” legislation. But did nothing to stop the legislation that is now law.

A major player in the religious right in the United States used its contacts and influence to promote an agenda that is the antithesis of peace and understanding — items I was taught are the foundations of Christian belief. I have seen hundreds of Christian organizations work in Honduras, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. It is true in some cases the individuals seemed to care more for passing out bibles than providing for the physical well-being of the people served. But by and large these are good people providing housing, medical care and education to people denied the basics by their own societies.

And The Family will say they also provide help to the poor. And they do. But they — and their followers/supporters — also bring hate and fear.

The link between what is happening in Uganda and the United States is direct. And it is a shame that an organization based in the United States with many members of Congress listed as members/associates has helped create an atmosphere of persecution that has now led to a law that could jail hundreds — if not thousands — for just being human.

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Filed under Africa, Connections, International News Coverage

Hong Kong journalists fighting for freedom

A demonstration over the weekend by Hong Kong journalists showed pretty clearly that they have not given up on rule of law, free speech and freedom of press. (Hong Kong journalists take to streets to march for press freedom)

After all, these things are guaranteed in Hong Kong until 2047 — by international treaty.

Ever since China took over Hong Kong (1997 for those of you who could not remember), journalists have been under pressure to bow to the party line coming from Beijing.

As long as there has been a Hong Kong, most media owners have done all they could to keep the ruling government happy. That means before 1997 it was bowing to London.

The difference between pre-1997 and now, however, is that now many of the tycoons owning media outlets are afraid of hurting their gazzilion-dollar deals in mainland China. So they fire anyone on their staff who does not push a pro-Beijing position.

China learned early on in its opening to the West that it can influence organizations by making life (and business) difficult for foreign businesses trying to do business with the Middle Kingdom. It is simple, under the structure of ruling in China, they see no difference between the government and business operations. (That is changing a bit but not really that much.) Likewise, because, under Communist rule, the media are just another arm of the ruling party, this must also be so in other countries.

They project their policies and perceptions on the rest of the world — as many do — but unlike most other governments, Beijing ignores facts when presented to them. They still think they can run things by either brute force or claiming any objective reporting on human rights violations in the country either “violates Chinese sovereignty” or (and this is my favorite) “hurts the feelings of all Chinese people.”

The pressure against independent media in Hong Kong has stepped up under the latest power shift in China. And this time the pressure is not as indirect as it once was. Complaints from Beijing about how and what the Hong Kong media report are becoming more common and more strident. Pressure from scared media owners and the Hong Kong government has led to a perceived loss of press freedom in the territory.

Oh, and staying with the theme of this site, why should American journalists or the American people care about all this?

  1. In Hong Kong  freedoms are under attack. There is the basic American belief that freedom — of press, speech, assembly, etc — is a good thing.
  2. Hong Kong remains a major economic powerhouse. Without a free press, information on company valuation, risks and benefits — all the stuff that businesses use to decide investment strategy — is questionable. (Why do you think no one trusts the mainland China media when it comes to economic news?) A lot of US companies — and US jobs — depend on accurate and unbiased information.
  3. The guarantees of civic freedom in Hong Kong are part of an international treaty, not some wink and nod arrangement. International treaties are supposed to mean something. Adherence to these treaties is designed to prevent armed conflict.


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Filed under China, Harassment, Press Freedom

UPDATE: How about the Central American elections?

So far the US media seem to be covering the elections going on in Thailand — largely because of the violence taking place in that Asian country.

But closer to home there are two elections that can have a more dramatic and immediate impact.

El Salvador and Costa Rica are holding elections Sunday, Feb. 2. The results could mean a lot to U.S. security and economics.

Costa Rica

Reuters: Scandals, inequality loom large as Costa Rica votes for new leader

Costa Rica has been one of the most stable and successful countries in Central America. The democratic process is deeply ingrained in the Ticos.

Unfortunately, the country has not been able to avoid the problems other countries in the area are facing: corruption, drug trafficking and a weakened economy. And so the voters are faced with some serious issues and choices.

But what does that mean for the United States? (After all to the American media nothing is important unless it affects the USA.)

Exports from the United States in 2012 amounted to $7.2 billion dollars, most of that trade was in petroleum and electronics.

Imports were about $12 billion, mostly electronics and agriculture goods.

And, yep, that means there is about a $5 billion trade deficit with Costa Rica. Still, the best way to close that gap is to help make sure Costa Rica advances economically. If the Costa Ricans have more money, they can buy more goods and services from the USA as well as other countries and everyone benefits.

El Salvador

Reuters: Ex-rebel faces gang-fighting conservative in El Salvador vote

Unfortunately for El Salvador it got caught up the violence and civil wars of the 1980s. For some in the United States there was a red under every bed in Central America. And for others the U.S. policy was nothing but offering support for every two-bit dictator that would search out and destroy the reds.

A lot has changed since then. Democracy has taken hold. But, unfortunately, too many people on the left and right still live in the 1980s and are looking at the elections as just another phase of the Cold War, albeit 25 years later.

The violence that wracks El Salvador no is no longer communist-back rebels or right-wing death squads but rather plain old fashioned gangs and thugs. But, due to corruption and weak government institutions, the gang violence has gotten out of hand. Innocent bystanders are caught in the crossfire as gangs fight each other for domination of neighborhoods.

Journalists and human rights advocates are threatened by the gangs.

And the people are fed up with the violence.

At the same time the global economic downturn has hit the Salvadorans hard.

One candidate promises to end the violence. Another — the incumbent — promises to keep the social welfare programs he instituted in place. Both issues have a lot of appeal.

Going into the election, no one candidate has a majority in the polls. Chances are there will be a run off next month.

What does that mean to the United States?

To start with the most deadly gangs in the country are the MS 13 and Barrio 18, made up of Salvadorans deported from the United States. The gangs are multi-national enterprises — they operate in Honduras and Guatemala as well as the United States and Mexico. Besides running their own human trafficking, protection and extortion rackets, they cooperate with the Colombian drug operators and the Mexican cartels.

These gangs are a destabilizing the region through their violence and corruption. And — just to stress the point again — operate in the United States and help smuggle drugs and people into the USA.

U.S. exports to El Salvador come to about $3 billion. In that amount about $300 million each is earned in textiles, petroleum and chemicals.

Imports from El Salvador are $2.5 billion, mostly in apparel and electronics.

That means the U.S. carries a positive trade balance with El Salvador.

It does not take a lot of math or hard thinking to realize that if El Salvador can beat the problems of violence and develop economically, the people will buy more goods and services from the United States.

The question facing the people in El Salvador is what direction will they go: More spending on security or on social programs. From the rhetoric coming out of the country, there appears to be little room for both.

For American journalists, the results of these two elections should be of concern. If the power of the governments change hands, new policies that could affect U.S. security, drug policy and economic well-being might be put in place.

If the governments remain in the hands of the current ruling parties, then the issues of corruption, violence and economic issues will have to be dealt with by parties that have not been successful in addressing those issues. That is not to say that a renewal of power to a ruling party does not mean changes cannot happen. We are seeing dramatic actions being taken in Honduras to address corruption and violence even though the Nationalist Party was returned to the power of the presidency.

In just a few months, there will have been major elections in three of the five Central American countries. The changes — or lack there of — have an impact on the United States in trade and social stability.

It would be nice if just a little more attention was being paid to the region before the xenophobes go crazy over the influx of immigrants and before those who have not left the 1980s start their rants and raves to the press and U.S. Congress about either the rising red tide of Chavismo/Castro-ism or right-wing death squads.

And just covering the elections is not enough. It would be nice to show the American people why it is important to pay attention to Central America (or Asia or Africa or Europe). In journalism, that is called providing context.

And context is something that has been sorely missing from most international reports in most news organizations.

UPDATE Feb. 3, 9:14am Central America Time

The New York Times decided to cover the elections as the voting took place. (El Salvador and Costa Rica Hold Presidential Elections.)

It was done by one their correspondents – instead of lifting and AP or Reuters’ feed. And it even provided context on the issues the voters in El Salvador and Costa Rica were facing.

It was a very well-done piece. Anyone who cares about the issues of Latin America — especially democracy and security — would enjoy the piece and feel he/she was being properly informed.

All that was missing was why the rest of America should care.


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Filed under Central America, International News Coverage, Story Ideas, Trade