Monthly Archives: April 2012

Cutting foreign affairs budget does little but threaten more American lives

Here we go again.

It is conventional wisdom that there is no real constituency for international affairs other than ideologues, charity groups and think tanks. And it shows in the way the budget for  non-military overseas expenditures is handled.

Once again the current House leadership wants to use the Ryan budget plan to make further and deeper cuts in foreign affairs budget. The House Appropriations Committee voted for a State Department and foreign operations budget for the next  fiscal year of $48.4 billion — a 12 percent cut from the administration’s $54.71 billion request.

What these budget cutters just don’t seem to understand is that the civilian foreign affairs budget is less than 1 percent of the total federal budget and so any cuts in the international affairs budget has a negligible impact on the larger budget.

Also what they don’t seem to understand is that the more they cut the diplomatic, foreign commercial, foreign agricultural and development services budgets the more likely need there will be for the military to deal with international issues.

“Retreat from our engagement in the world is not an option for the sake of our national security, but these cuts to the International Affairs Budget represent just that,” said retired Marine Corps Gen. Mike Hagee, co-chair of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s National Security Advisory Council. “The International Affairs Budget is absolutely critical to our nation’s security and economic interests, and the programs it funds are cost-effective ways to prevent conflicts that will eventually require us to put our brave men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”

So I guess the budget cutters are saying is that it is more important to save money than the blood and lives of the men and women in the U.S. military.

And let’s not forget that the only way the U.S. can make sales overseas is if there is a foreign service available to negotiate treaties that allow for free trade and who protect American interests overseas.

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Filed under International News Coverage, Story Ideas

DR-NJ ink deal on child support. That old local-global thing again

There was a quick short story on the AP about a new arrangement between the State of New Jersey and the Dominican Republic on the enforcement of child support payments. The New Jersey Herald carried it: NJ to collect payments in the Dominican Republic

Good for them, but there is more to the story than what the AP did.

The article pointed out that the DR was the latest addition to agreements with 21 other countries. And “the agreement will immediately affect 536 active cases in the state’s Child Support System in which 1 of the people involved resides in the Dominican Republic.”

The move by the state is important. And while this new agreement only affects 256 out of how many hundreds or thousands of cases, I have a few questions (just for starters) that should be answered:

  • How many children are affected by all 21 agreements?
  • What are the success and failure stories in enforcing the agreements?
  • Are there any countries that New Jersey would like to have an agreement with but so far have not been able to?
    • And why those countries and what are the problem?

New Jersey learned of the importance of enforcing international agreements in the much-publicized Goldman kidnapping case where a New Jersey resident fought for years — with the help of the State Department — to get his son back from Brazil successfully.

These international child-support agreements are part of ongoing issues that dramatically link local concerns with international ones.

I hope that the New Jersey Herald — or some other publication — will spend the time to look into the agreements and discuss how and why they are important and what the benefits have been for New Jersey residents. I would bet that the people of New Jersey would like to learn more about how their government protects the rights of the children of the Garden State through international agreements. (And maybe even learn that the efforts  of U.S. diplomats to enforce these agreements have a direct connection to their lives.)

And this wouldn’t be such a bad idea for other news outlets around the country to see what agreements their states have as well.

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Filed under Connections, Story Ideas

FCC Human Rights Press Awards Presented

Each year for the past 16 years the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong, along with the Hong Kong Journalist Association and Amnesty International have celebrated the best of Asian journalism. (I was lucky enough to be on that committee during my time in Hong Kong.)

This is a major award that draws attention to not only good reporting but also the repression against free media that takes place in too many Asian countries.

The host is my buddy Frances Moriarty, a top-notch journalist with RTHK.

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Filed under Asia, International News Coverage

Harassment does not wear well

Thanks to Boing Boing for helping get the word spread around on this gem of stupidity:

Which Pentagon contractor launched an idiotic propaganda campaign against USA Today?

Here is the original USA Today story from April 20: Misinformation campaign targets USA TODAY reporter, editor

WASHINGTON – A USA TODAY reporter and editor investigating Pentagon propaganda contractors have themselves been subjected to a propaganda campaign of sorts, waged on the Internet through a series of bogus websites.

Fake Twitter and Facebook accounts have been created in their names, along with a Wikipedia entry and dozens of message board postings and blog comments. Websites were registered in their names.

The timeline of the activity tracks USA TODAY’s reporting on the military’s “information operations” program, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan — campaigns that have been criticized even within the Pentagon as ineffective and poorly monitored.

As Rob Beschizza said at Boing Boing:

Ever wondered why U.S. propaganda efforts abroad are such a joke? Now you can stop wondering.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Middle East

Smoking: International and domestic battles rage

A U.S. federal appeals court is taking on the constitutional issue that a government proposal requiring large graphic photos on cigarette packs to show that smoking can harm or kill smokers.

Court weighs graphic health warnings on cigarettes

The tobacco companies argue that the proposed warnings are more anti-smoking advocacy than factual information. The Obama administration says the photos of dead and diseased smokers are indeed factual

And guess what? There is another story on the international side that fits into the anti-smoking campaign and packaging.

Honduras Complains at WTO Over Australia Tobacco-Logo Ban

The law — to take effect Dec. 1 — will prohibit the display of  logos, labels and trademarks. Yep, the Aussies decided that graphic pictures don’t seem to be working so they will ban the names of smoking material. (Gotta admit this is kind of weird.)

The Hondurans — tobacco producers — object to new law, saying it violates global rules on intellectual property.

So in the WTO the issue is intellectual property and in the USA it is free speech.

Seems there is a link between the two. I just haven’t seen anyone writing about it yet.

BTW: The graphic pictures the US government is suggesting are WAY more mild than the stuff we have seen on cigarette packs around the world. Face it, smoking kills!


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Filed under Connections

Internet Freedom: Home and Abroad

It is easy to criticize China and Iran over the way they attempt to control the Internet. But where do they get the technology to do so?

And do Britain, India and the United States (great democracies all) really want an unfettered Internet?

Excellent journalist Rebecca McKinnon has a wonderful discussion of Internet freedom in Foreign Policy: Internet Freedom Starts at Home

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Filed under Censorship, Freedom of access

Venezuela Court Bans Independent Pollution Reporting

Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists commented late last week on the Venezuelan court decision that bans news media from reporting pollution figures not approved by the central government.

CPJVenezuelan court ruling limits coverage of water quality

Daniel Guédez, a criminal court judge in the capital, Caracas, ruled on March 21 that any media reports on the quality of the local water supply must be based upon “a truthful technical report supported by a competent government body,” the Attorney General’s office reported. News accounts in recent weeks had questioned whether a nearby river that provides drinking water was contaminated with chemicals. The government has denied that the water is contaminated, news reports said.


The ban was issued at the request of three citizens with the aim of verifying whether the media “campaign” about the alleged pollution constitutes an offence requiring a criminal investigation. According to attorney-general Luisa Ortega, no serious evidence has been produced to support the claims.

The Chavez government has already passed laws that make criminalizing “promoting panic” — basically anything that is critical of government policies.

A couple of years ago a court stopped the news media from running pictures of crime leading up to the September elections. The move came on the heels of a steady campaign to shut down Venezuelan broadcasters critical of the government.

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Filed under Censorship, Corruption, Freedom of Information, Press Freedom, South America