Monthly Archives: January 2011

Kristof tests The Great Firewall of China

Nicholas Kristof has a great column today about Internet censorship in China.

The bad news: It is bad and pervasive. The good news: It’s not as pervasive as we thought.

Banned in Beijing!

The challenge for the authorities is that there is just too much to police by moderators, and automatic filters don’t work terribly well. Chinese routinely use well-known code phrases for terms that will be censored (June 4 might become June 2+2, or May 35). Likewise, Chinese can usually get around the “great firewall of China” by using widely available software, like Freegate, or by tunneling through a virtual private network.

Most Chinese aren’t overtly political — seeking out banned pornography is typically regarded as more rewarding than chasing down tracts about multiparty democracy. Still, Internet controls are widely resented. My bet is that more young Chinese are vexed by their government’s censorship than by its rejection of multiparty democracy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Censorship, China

Brazil court supports free speech

Brazil’s top appeals court rejected a woman’s effort to force Google to censor postings on its popular Orkut social networking site.

According to court documents the woman complained about insults posted on Orkut. She sued Google to force it to censor all insulting remarks.

The justices said such a request was a violation of free speech and rejected her suit.

Brazilian court rules for Google in insults case

The victory is an important one. There are still a number of laws on the books left over from the dictatorship that could — with the right judge — be used to stifle free speech. Fortunately for freedom of speech — and all the other related freedoms — most judges are either refusing to enforce those laws or are declaring them unconstitutional. (As a court did with several restrictive media laws last year.)

Orkut is wildly popular in Brazil. About 48 percent of all Orkut users are from Brazil. A recent study also showed Orkut had 36 million unique visits while Facebook had only 9 million.

Leave a comment

Filed under Censorship, South America

Details of Pearl’s death revealed

Many thanks to the hard work of The Pearl Project at Georgetown University.

The 32 journalism students dug into the details of the brutal killing of Daniel Pearl nine years ago. Thanks to their efforts we now have hard evidence of what happened to Pearl from the time he was kidnapped until his execution at the hands of the same guy who was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attack on the United States.

Read the full report: The Truth Left Behind

The team worked since 2007 to put the report together. Here is a summary from the project’s website:

  • Doubts regarding 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s (KSM) confession during “waterboarding” were eased when FBI agents and CIA officials used a technique called vein-matching to compare the hand of the killer in the murder video with a photo of Mohammed’s hand.
  • The report includes exclusive details from KSM’s interview in Guantanamo with FBI agents. KSM told FBI agents that he got a call to take over the kidnapping operation from al-Qaeda operative Saif el-Adel. KSM said he personally slit Pearl’s throat and severed his head to make certain he’d get the death penalty and to exploit the murder for “propaganda.” Some U.S. and Pakistani officials believe KSM may have been assisted by two of his nephews, Musaad Aruchi, whose whereabouts aren’t publicly known, and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, KSM’s trusted aide, who is incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay.
  • After 9/11, KSM designated his young nephew, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, to be the facilitator for “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. When he was kidnapped, Pearl was chasing a story that a cleric, Sheik Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, was the facilitator. He wasn’t. Reid was an Al Qaeda operative.
  • Almost half of those implicated in Pearl’s abduction-murder — 14 men with some alleged involvement — are thought to remain free. The list includes guards, drivers, and fixers tied to the conspiracy.
  • In their haste to close the case, Pakistani authorities knowingly used perjured testimony to pin the actual act of murder on Omar Sheikh, the mastermind of the operation, and his three co-conspirators. While the four were involved in the kidnapping plan and certainly were culpable, they were not present when Pearl was murdered. Others, who were present and actually assisted in the beheading, were not charged.
  • Omar Sheikh, who orchestrated the kidnapping plot, had contemplated bargaining over ransom demands for Pearl’s freedom, but that possibility faded when it became known that Pearl was Jewish and when Al Qaida operatives took charge of him.

An excellent work of journalism.

Leave a comment

Filed under International News Coverage

China-USA trade and economies — The BBC gets it

Why is it that it takes the BBC to do a story about how Chinese investments in the United States create jobs?

China President Hu Jintao set to visit Barack Obama in US

We have President Hu coming to the United States to visit President Obama and the U.S. Congress but on the day before Hu’s arrival, there are no scene setters or even a look at the political or economic relationship between the two countries. (Maybe those stories will be run on the day Hu arrives. One can only hope.)

But the China-US story is not just an aggressive Chinese military or massive violations of human rights or of U.S. jobs lost to Chinese factories. As the BBC report points out, it is also about Chinese investment in U.S. jobs.

I like the fact that the BBC reporter went to Indiana to profile a factory that went from 15 people to more than 400 employees. That is job creation thanks to free trade and open borders.

If the anti-trade, pro-isolationists get their way, all those U.S. dollars that are being sent to China for goods or for debt will go to some other country. Whenever a country makes itself unfriendly to foreign investment or foreign products, it always hurts itself much more than it hurts it erstwhile trading partners.

It would be nice if we could see more reporting in the U.S. about the complex nature of trade instead of the too often one-sided “they are taking jobs from us” reports.

Leave a comment

Filed under China, Connections

Americans concerned about jobs. So where is the trade component in reporting?

The Gallup Organization just released new numbers about what the American people are most concerned about. To no one’s surprise the economy and unemployment top the list.

Americans Want Congress, Obama to Tackle Economic Issues

The numbers are stark:

And yet I seem to see little reporting on the impact trade has on the economy and unemployment.

Well, that is not completely accurate.

We constantly hear how U.S. jobs are lost to cheap-labor countries such as China and Vietnam.

What does not seem to be talked about, however, are the jobs that are created with international trade.

The U.S. Treasury Department estimates there are about 50 million Americans whose jobs are tied to exports of goods and services.

That can be anything from poultry farmers sending chicken feet to China to architects designing new buildings in Qatar.

But there is more to the trade issue than just jobs related to exports.

Think about the jobs created because of direct investment in the United States.

In a study Honda did in 2009 about the economic impact its investments in the United States had on jobs, the company reported that its direct investments in the United States resulted in 368,000 jobs providing $17 billion 1n annual wages and salaries.

Remember, that number is ONLY the DIRECT effect of Honda’s investment. That number includes employees at the Honda assembly plants in the States and the dealerships that sell the Honda products.

Look deeper and you might see a larger effect.

Because these 368,000 people have jobs and income, they have an impact on their local economies.

Let’s say Honda lays off half of the 152,000 people who work in its Ohio facilities. Think about how that will hurt the local grocery stores, the local tax base, the local beauty shops, bars, etc.

Take my hometown of Detroit. Yep it is a basket case. And imports played a role in hammering the city. Yet, today the Motor City is also the site of massive changes.

Recently I saw a report that at least one call center was opening in Detroit instead of India or China. The manager said the infrastructure is in place and the workforce is educated. And the people need and want work.

Add to that a recent report that showed that one in three new start-ups in Michigan were created by immigrants.

So immigrants are helping rebuild the American economy.

Foreign investors are helping rebuild the American economy.

But where are the stories in the mainstream media?

What we see instead are stories about uniformed members of Congress and the general public who say we need tighter rules against immigrants and foreign investment. Or that imposing tariffs against imported goods is the way to protect American jobs. The promoters of such views, of course are forgetting (or not realizing) that other economies will counter-impose tariffs against our goods and services.

In the end, the isolationist views of blocking immigration, imports and investments will put more people out of work and damage the U.S. economy even more.

Around the country in small and large towns there are similar stories. It just takes a reporter and editor/producer with a bit of imagination to see past the LOCAL! LOCAL! LOCAL! mantra of the bean counters.

If the American people are concerned about jobs and the economy, why aren’t news organizations looking at the immigrant communities and foreign investors. And asking, why are these people willing to risk their lives and money in the United States instead of some other country.

And these are LOCAL stories. They just have an international angle.

There is a whole world out there and every side street in the United States is tied to it. Unfortunately, the reporting too often does not accurately reflect that reality.

1 Comment

Filed under Connections, Story Ideas, Trade

Think retribution. U.S. banks stopping service to diplomats in USA

The Washington Post is following up on an earlier story about how U.S. banks are looking to end servicing diplomats and diplomatic missions in the United States. (J.P. Morgan Chase to end services for diplomats; other banks ready to follow)

To bad the writer missed the impact the move could have on U.S. businesses and — as a result — the U.S. economy and Main Street America. (But I am not surprised.)

As the story noted, the J.P. Morgan move comes after Bank of America closed out the accounts of the Angolan diplomatic mission to the United States in November.

Back in November I noted that this was a major story that has serious repercussions for media outlets and U.S. companies:

So why is this an important story? Why is it important to journalists and journalism organizations?

One simple word: Retaliation!

Already the Angolan government is showing its displeasure with the bank action by refusing to accept the credentials of the U.S. ambassador-designate to Angola. (The Angolan government says the U.S. government needs to do more to force the banks to accept their accounts.)

On the horizon, the governments could cancel permission of U.S. banks to operate in their countries. They could also freeze or cancel the local banking accounts of companies such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron. This latter option is already being discussed in Angola.

The few U.S. news outlets that have international correspondents and bureaus, could find their overseas accounts frozen. This would lead to an inability to pay stringers, local staff, interpreters and — in general — local expenses.

Add to the inability of news organizations to operate overseas the impact banking retaliation would have on the overall U.S. economy. How much trade do you think will get done if U.S. companies are not allowed to have accounts in overseas’ banks? Not a lot is the correct answer.

And the U.S. economy depends on trade.

There is little that can be done about forcing banks to handle diplomats’ accounts. But the media could at least begin explaining the potential consequences of the banks’ actions on the American economy. It would have been nice if the post had looked at this issue as well as showing off its “knowledge” of diplomatic finances.

Leave a comment

Filed under Connections, International News Coverage

Ignorance of the world leads to dangerous “surprises”

Observers are shocked about how young lawyers in Pakistan are rallying behind the accused murderer of the governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer, who was an outspoken proponent of liberalism.

The lawyers were once held up as the potential leaders of a liberal democratic Pakistan when they stood up to the dictatorship a couple of years ago. And now they are supporting a man who objected to political liberalism and who was a conservative Islamic fundamentalist.

What happened and why does it matter?

The New York Times as a great article discussing this issue: Pakistan Faces a Divide of Age on Muslim Law.

One paragraph summed up the problem for the United States:

Washington has poured billions of dollars into the Pakistani military to combat terrorism, but has long neglected a civilian effort to counter the inexorable pull of conservative Islam. By now the conservatives have entered nearly every part of Pakistani society, even the rank-and-file security forces, as the assassination showed.

For all the foreign aid the United States has handed out since the days of the Marshall Plan 65 years ago very little thought has been given to “civilian” efforts of building democratic institutions — including free and independent media.

There was always money — granted, a limited amount — available through the U.S. Information Agency to sponsor study tours and international leadership exchanges. But within government circles few saw the value in spending money on working at a grassroots level to build democratic institutions such as independent media, community groups or trade unions. But even when USIA financed these types of programs, most in the agency didn’t understand the purpose.

Then things started to change in the 1980s. Say what you will about Ronald Reagan and his foreign policy, it was under his administration that the National Endowment for Democracy was founded.

The NED was the first U.S. financed but private organization dedicated to working to develop democratic institutions in the developing world.

The core groups that receive grants from the NED are the international arms of the Democratic and Republican Parties, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Other smaller groups also get one-time grants for specific programs.

In the 1990s the U.S. Agency for International Development also finally got the message that all the development work in the world will not do much to help unless the people are part of the program. And for the people to be part of any national development means the promotion of local groups independent of the national power structure.

By the end of the 20th century, the USAID Democracy & Governance program was running programs that supported community groups and independent media.

The USAID programs paid for U.S. journalists to teach classes around the world in interviewing techniques and production skills. And in the process, the U.S. journalists transmitted their deep-seated belief that media are supposed to be separate and independent from the government.

The U.S. is late to the game of democracy development. And with the budget crisis in the U.S. and no real constituency for international programs (other than the Pentagon), we should expect to see cuts in already limited programs that promote free and independent media.

And the worst part, as I see it, is that even if there were loads more stories about how the U.S. missed opportunities to promote our values of democracy and pluralism, I don’t think it will matter. Too many in Congress have their minds made up that any foreign aid is a waste of time — unless it promotes their particular agenda — and too many Americans just don’t care.

We will continue to be “surprised” by events around the world until we start putting some value in understanding what is going on in the world.

(I still recall when the Solidarity movement erupted in Poland 30 years ago. When a U.S. diplomat was asked why the State Department did not see it coming, he responded: “You expect us to talk to workers?” Fortunately the State Dept. has learned its lesson. Diplomats now reach out to the widest range of sources within a country as possible — the WikiLeaks cables prove that.)

To avoid more “surprises,” the U.S. media need to see that events in the rest of the world affect us. The few news organizations that still have international correspondents should be giving those reporters more time/space to explain how events in far-away lands affect American society, politics or economy.

Even more can be done without foreign correspondents.

  • The U.S. is a nation of immigrants. Every city and town has a community with connections to “the old country.” Maybe more attention needs to be paid to those immigrant communities.
  • I also defy anyone to show me one community in the U.S. that does not have some sort of economic link to another country. (And I don’t mean the local Honda dealership or the Chinese-made products at Wal-Mart.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Connections, International News Coverage