Why foreign assistance is important to US economy

Too many Americans are just plain wrong when it comes to foreign aid.

In January 2016 a Kaiser Foundation survey showed that 15 percent of the American people believe the foreign aid budget represents more than half of the U.S. federal budget.  The average answer from the survey was that the US spend 31 percent of its budget on foreign aid. Only 3 percent had the right answer: 1-1.5 percent.

 

And now the Trump Administration wants to cut the aid program (and the rest of civilian foreign policy operations) by a third.

Contrary to the attitude that seems to come from the administration and its supporters, the purpose of foreign aid is not to just give away money to make us feel better. In fact, foreign aid is an important factor in improving the U.S. economy.

When poor people in another country start earning more money, they most often use the money to improve the lives of their children by investing in education and health. And once those basic cares are covered, these people then start buying things.

If the country has a free-trade agreement with the United States, that means U.S. products can enter the country with low or no import fees. And that means the U.S. products can be purchased by the emerging middle class.

Helping build a strong middle class in the developing world is part of what development aid is all about. One of the most visible programs in the US Agency for International Development universe is Feed the Future.

I have seen the program in action in Honduras.

Farmers who barely able to grow enough to feed their families were able improve their agricultural output under the Feed the Future program. I saw farmers install healthy stoves — designed to expel the smoke outside the house. The extra income was also used to improve the diets of the families, thereby making the children healthier and better able to learn. And the extra money was also used to educate the children so they can find better paying work when they graduate.

For less than a penny on the dollar, tens of thousands of people in Honduras were brought out of severe poverty — about $1 a day. The lives of these people was improved and their children were given opportunities to improve their future.

And this affects the U.S. how?

By giving young people a viable future, U.S. aid programs keeps them away from gangs — in particular the major syndicates that help move drugs into the United States. Also, by improving the local country’s economy, there are fewer reasons for young people to leave their country for the United States.

And to be clear, Feed the Future is not only for farmers. It works with people who have an idea for a company but who aren’t sure how to proceed.

Norma Linares owns Loma Alta, a thriving food processing enterprise that she and her husband founded in 2014 in their village of Azacualpa, Honduras. The husband and wife team turned about 300 plantains per month into chips, which they sold to local retail outlets. Home-based and family-run, the business started small, generating a net income of around $75 a month.

Soon after Loma Alta’s founding, Linares and her husband started working with a Feed the Future project, where they were introduced to a wide range of training and technical assistance to improve processing efficiency, quality control, and packaging in their business. Feed the Future also helped Loma Alta establish ties with market contacts, giving it year-round access to reliable buyers and a more steady income throughout the year.

Opportunities Sprout from Growing Plantain Business

Eventually the company expanded into other packaged foods and changed from a solely family business to one that hires people to package and sell their goods.

In just a few years this family moved firmly into the middle class in Honduras. And that means they will be able to buy U.S. products. It also means they will be staying in Honduras rather than making the dangerous journey to the U.S. to look for economic opportunities.

For about one cent on the dollar USAID (and the State Department) provide programs and assistance that helps build the economies of other countries, which in turn means more markets for U.S. goods AND reduced immigration.

So what is the more wasteful program: Building a wall and militarizing a border or providing assistance to people to work their way out of poverty?

Common sense says it is clearly the latter.

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Filed under Central America, Connections, Development, Story Ideas

New Provision Threatens VOA Editorial Independence

This item first appeared in the blog site of the SPJ International Committee

Politico reported this week a provision included in the just-passed National Defense Authorization Act would get rid of the bipartisan board running Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other news outlets with a single CEO nominated by the president.

The Voice of America has had a long and strong reputation for presenting the news in a fair and balanced nature in spite of the political winds blowing in Washington. Efforts by administrations to slant the news or to not report events with the full vigor expected of journalists have all failed.

The independence of the VOA was first drafted in 1960 and then signed into law by Pres. Gerald R. Ford.

The Code of Ethics for VOA journalists is also very clear what their role is:

“VOA reporters and broadcasters must strive for accuracy and objectivity in all their work. They do not speak for the U.S. government. They accept no treatment or assistance from U.S. government officials or agencies that is more favorable or less favorable than that granted to staff of private-sector news agencies. Furthermore, VOA professionals, careful to preserve the integrity of their organization, strive for excellence and avoid imbalance or bias in their broadcasts.”

All this was possible because of the multi-party nature of the board of governors that controlled the VOA and other broadcast outlets. Now, according to the Political piece: “Essentially, Trump is finally getting his Trump TV — financed by taxpayers to the tune of $800 million per year.”

The SPJ stood up for the reporters and editors of VOA when the George W. Bush Administration tried to prevent VOA from interviewing and airing its exclusive interviews with the leadership of the Taliban just as the Afghanistan war was starting.

Numerous VOA reporters received the highest awards the SPJ offered for reporting over the years.

All this could change because of a provision slipped into the authorization bill by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce. He argued the CEO structure would make VOA more efficient.

What it also does is make the VOA susceptible to pressure from the White House to become a propaganda organ rather than an honest news organization.

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Filed under International News Coverage, Press Freedom, SPJ

London-Based Chinese Journalist Defends Chinese Repression

No big surprise. A reporter for the official Chinese media defends the repressive actions of the Chinese government against a BBC reporter and an independent candidate for office in China.

The World According to a CCTV Journalist Based in London

The BBC event that sparked this reporter’s tirade is BBC stopped from visiting China independent candidate (Screen capture below.)

bbc

 

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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of access, Human Rights, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Chinese Pollution Issues Stress Need For Free & Independent Media

The Chinese government leadership have a real problem. Technology is giving people and local groups more power to look into issues and to get the results of their investigations to a lot of people in a hurry.

The latest is a report that students at the Changzhou Foreign Language School in Changzhou in Jiangsu province were falling ill at an abnormal rate.

Chinese children ‘fall sick at new school’ (BBC – April 18, 2016)

The Chinese authorities are investigating reports that hundreds of children have become sick after their new school opened next to a former industrial site.

Nearly 500 Chinese children are reported to have developed dermatitis, blood abnormalities, leukaemia and lymphoma thought to be a result of air, soil and water toxins at their new school.

Now, government officials report there is nothing to the reports that reports the soil near the school tests chemical levels at 95,000 times the national limit.

Yep, nothing to see here.

The initial report — by state-run media — caused an uproar among Internet users. And a series of articles outside China.

Lack of concern about where or how construction takes place is a common issue in China. And with no method to keep an eye on the government — freedom of information laws or an independent media or opposition parties — there appears little people can do except pass information by the Internet or mobile phone texts.

 

Those Chinese residents able to breach the Great Firewall would have been able to read the two stories mentioned above from Hong Kong and the US. They also would have been able to read another SCMP piece on how more than 80 percent of the country’s groundwater is contaminated and unfit for human consumption.

While the government leadership officially says it wants to dig out corruption and that media outlets have a role in that campaign, it is also the official policy that the media must first serve the (Communist) Party, the government, then the people. So if the Party or government leadership decide that potentially contaminated soil might be the cause of abnormal illnesses among school children AND if that situation makes the Party or government leaders look bad, then the contamination must not really exist.

So now the official media are reporting that three months of testing has shown contamination levels are within normal limits.

And that, of course, begs the question: What are normal limits?

Looking at how China deals with air pollution we can see that their limits leave something to be desired.

The World Health Organization puts on upper limit of Particulate Matter 2.5 (particulates less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) at 35 micrograms per cubic meter. The U.S. Environmental Administration put the upper limit of “good” at 50 micrograms per cubic meter. China puts it upper limit of “good” at 75 micrograms per cubic meter.

These higher levels allowed the Chinese government to officially say Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities had a lot of “good” days. However, even Chinese researchers found something was wrong. The catalyst for real change came after the U.S. embassy in Beijing started taking its own pollution data and posting it online.

At first the URL — http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/aqirecent3.html — was blocked by the Great Firewall of China. And the Chinese government complained the U.S. was interfering in China’s internal affairs. Eventually — and with the Olympics coming up — the government relented and once again allowed access to the site.

Chinese researchers have begun to look at the government data and the US embassy data to see just how bad pollution is and if it is improving. (The good news/bad news is that some changes for the good are taking place.)

The problem is that China still uses levels of “acceptance” that are way higher than the WHO and other industrial nations. This practice puts people’s lives in danger. And with the government tightening its grip on the news media, the people will have little chance of learning about how much danger.

And yes, Americans need to know about these situations because it can directly impact the quality of goods sold to the United States. And because more and more Americans are moving to China to work, study and vacation. We just have this weird idea that we should know the health risks of a place we are about to visit.

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Filed under Censorship, China, International News Coverage

Criminal Defamation Laws Hit Press Freedom

The growing use of criminal defamation laws around the world add to the general decline in press freedom.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a great program called Critics are not Criminals. This is a worthy effort that deserves the support of not only all journalists but all civil libertarians.

The latest case is in Honduras. A reporter looked into an alleged corrupt local police chief. Television reporter Ariel Armando D’Vicente now faces three years in prison with an additional three-year ban on working as a journalist.

Unfortunately for too many journalists, they get hammered by the use of criminal defamation laws. A recent study by CPJ and Thomson Reuters Foundation showed the use of these laws has grown in the Americas.

When governments and individuals use the defamation/libel laws to exact criminal penalties, freedom of the press is hurt.

A basic rule in the United States is that truth is an absolute defense against libel or defamation. Yet in much of the rest of the world, even if everything said in an article is true, if the subject of the article can prove anyone thinks less of that person, he/she can sue AND get the reporter tossed in jail. (See: Different libel laws cause grief around the world.)

For reporters working around the world, knowledge of these laws is vital, especially freelancers. While reporters for major news organizations may be able to get legal help from the parent organization, a freelance caught up in these bad laws could be left hanging.

And, it is important to remember, this law does not only apply to journalists. A person having a bad experience in a country and saying so on Yelp or Facebook could lead to charges being filed. And satire is definitely a problem. Just ask the producers and writers of The Simpsons:

The government of Brazil sued the producers of the The Simpsons often. In a 2002 episode the Simpsons were in Brazil.  The family was robbed, eaten by snake, kidnapped and abused by monkeys. The Brazilian government sued. And the response of the Simpson team: More jokes about Brazil. And more lawsuits. None were successful — at least in the USA.

For some fun:

 

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Filed under Harassment, Human Rights, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

China Continues on Road of Information Supression

One thing you have to give to the government/Communist Party leadership in China is that they are ever vigilant about ways people can get information.

In the early days it was merely controlling the newspapers and radio stations. Now, with the Internet and SMS with mobile phones, the Party has been in the forefront of keeping the outside world from informing the Chinese people.

It is almost an annual event that new regulations about online news organizations are put forward.

To back up all the rules and regulations, the government has the Great Firewall of China in an effort to block outside influences. (New York Times, twitter, Facebook, etc.) And they have a cadre (some say millions) of people hired to actively counter any “non-positive” comments about China on the Internet. This group is known as the Fifty Cents Party because people are reportedly paid 50 cents for each comment they attack with a “positive” message.

Needless to say, Chinese netizens have had some fun with the 50 Cent Party

50 Cents

Maybe censorship is the government’s way of ensuring full employment, because reportedly millions are employed to monitor and report on unauthorized information on the Internet.

All this is in addition to the pronouncements of President Xi that the role of the media (and journalists) is to be a lap dog for the Party: [Journalists] must love the party, protect the party, and closely align themselves with the party leadership in thought, politics and action,”Love the Party” first. 

Needless to say, such a position is a violation of the ethics of any independent journalist or honest news organization not matter what country.

In addition to the Chinese government and ruling party doing all they can to stop information they don’t control from coming in, they are also trying to control what news outlets outside China can and should say:

  • Australia: Chinese language newspapers in Australia: Beijing controls messaging, propaganda in press – Sydney Morning Herald
  • Hong Kong: As Beijing tightens grip on Hong Kong media, mainland journalists suffer – Committee to Protect Journalists

The communist theory of media control is as old as Lenin setting up Pravda. The difference now is that there are so many different ways to get information thanks to mobile phones and the Internet that repressive government such as the one in China must waste more and more money on monitoring and jamming sites that might carry unauthorized material.

And to be sure, China is not alone. Nor are communist countries the only ones that go in for massive intrusion into Internet freedom. Just think of Turkey (pre- and post-coup), Saudi Arabia or Thailand.

Just think about how much more these countries could do if they focused their resources on growth and development instead of repression of free expression.

 

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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of Information, Harassment, International News Coverage

China: Independent journalism has a vile effect on society.

Nice to see the leadership in China is being honest about their attitude toward freedom of press and speech. In the past, they used would at least claim to be for freedom of the press but within limited “guidelines.”

Now, they are straight out saying press freedom is vile.

Websites run by Sina Corp, Sohu.com Inc, Netease Inc, Phoenix New Media Ltd’s iFeng and others had engaged in “actions that seriously violated regulations and had a completely vile effect”, state media reported.

Seems all that the Chinese government will allow online news services to publish are press releases from the government. Reuters reports the crackdown is taking place as part of a campaign against fake news and the spreading of rumors.

Seems the massive flooding in Hebei province and subsequent complaints of local corruption that made the damage greater plus the rejection of China’s claims to all the islands in the South China Sea by an international tribunal in The Hague have Chinese leaders worried that uncontrolled news might cause some problems.

Once again — and I don’t know why I have to keep saying this — by censoring news media, the Chinese government only helps strengthen rumor mills and whisper campaigns. When the people do not have a reliable source of information, they will turn to what ever source they can.

Rumors and other unsubstantiated accounts only lead to more instability in society, not less. It is no surprise that the most stable and resilient governments in the world are also those that honor press freedom.

 

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Filed under Censorship, China, International News Coverage