Monthly Archives: September 2012

Finally, US media does ICE familiarization story. More needed

For countries in Central America, the U.S. immigration laws are important. Many Hondurans and Guatemalans enter the States illegally to find a better life.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security has the job of rounding up and deporting those who violated U.S. immigration laws. But let’s be realistic here. Most of those arrested for immigration violations were first arrested for some other crime.

Once arrested for immigration violations, the people are processed and repatriated to their home countries. How those people are treated is of vital concern to the countries they come from. (Just as the U.S. is concerned how its citizens are treated in foreign jails.)

About a month ago ICE hosted a familiarization trip for Honduran and Guatemalan immigration officials to help them learn more about the United States’ detention and removal process and policies.

This visit was BIG news in the Honduran press. But only now are U.S. media outlets picking up on the story.

ICE familiarization trip educates foreign immigration officials on U.S. detention and removal process and policies

Washington, DC – Last month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hosted a familiarization trip for Honduran and Guatemalan immigration officials to learn more about the United States’ detention and removal process and policies, and to strengthen ties between the United States and both countries.

During this three-day trip, the officials, along with foreign service nationals and representatives from foreign nongovernmental organizations, traveled to south Texas to gain personal insight into the lifecycle of the detention and removal process.

Rest of story from Imperial Valley News.

For the Hondurans and Guatemalans the visit was an eye-opener. The visits also help ease relations between the United States and the Central American countries. The visitors saw first-hand how the detention and deportation process worked — instead of relying on rumors. And facts — seen and touched — carry weight when countries try to work together to solve a problem.

For the Central American countries part of the problem is that some of their most ambitious people are leaving because of limited opportunities in their home countries. Another part of the problem is that those who are caught committing a crime in the States and then being found to not have the U.S. proper immigration papers bring their criminal wiles to back home.

For those who leave because they see little hope for a better life in their home countries, USAID has been addressing that issue for some time. My wife and I have met a number of Honduran farmers who contemplated leaving for the States so they could earn enough money to feed and clothe their families. But after they signed up for the Feed the Future program, they found that within a year they could earn enough to not only feed their families but clothe and educate their children.

Explaining the treatment of people detained and deported is an important story for people in other countries and in the USA to understand. But it is only one part of a much larger story.

Without justifying why people illegally enter the United States, stories about why people face the dangers of illegal immigration needs to be told. Americans need to know what social, economic or political forces drive these people from their homeland and their families to risk the trip north.

Along those lines, about programs designed to help countries grow economically and socially — and thereby slow down illegal migration — need to be done.

For less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget USAID is working to build stable and prosperous countries around the world. The people who benefit from those programs are not only the ones in Latin America and Africa but also the United States. Prosperous countries buy more imported goods. And the U.S. can be a supplier of those goods.

If other countries are socially secure and economically well off (or at least getting better), their people will see opportunities at home and work harder to help their own country grow. And when they start buying U.S. goods, that means more export-related jobs in the United States.

But too often the links back to the States of foreign development aid are not made. And the political rhetoric encourages drastic cuts without any consideration to long-term effects.

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Filed under Central America, Connections, Jobs, Trade

Pesky social media: Posting on party privileges removed in China

While the government of China is whipping up the masses over the  Senkaku Islands, a poet thought the high life styles and privileges of the Communist Party elite was a more appropriate topic.

Oops. The posting by Chinese poet Xu Xin — “Smashing special provisions [for Party leaders] is better than boycotting Japanese goods!” — was quickly removed from Sina Weibo.

Deleted post criticizes Party privilege 

[A] post by Chinese poet Xu Xin was deleted from Sina Weibo on September 21, 2012. The post, a response to calls for the boycotting of Japanese goods in the midst of the China-Japan row over sovereignty of the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands, is a poster calling for people to focus instead on the special privileges enjoyed by China’s government leaders. Xu Xin currently has more than 152,000 followers, according to numbers from Sina Weibo. [More on deleted posts at the WeiboScope Search, by the Journalism and Media Studies Centre].

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Al-Jazeera’s independence threatened

One of the major selling points of Al-Jazeera was that it was independent from government control and provided solid reporting.

The news organization is based in Qatar. Its editorial content has been untouched by the royal family running the small Gulf country.

Now, however, its independence is being threatened:

Al-Jazeera’s political independence questioned amid Qatar intervention

Journalists had produced a package of the UN debate, topped with excerpts of President Obama’s speech, last Tuesday when a last-minute instruction came from Salem Negm, the Qatar-based news director, who ordered the video to be re-edited to lead with the comments from Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Despite protests from staff that the emir’s comments – a repetition of previous calls for Arab intervention in Syria – were not the most important aspect of the UN debate, the two-minute video was re-edited and Obama’s speech was relegated to the end of the package.

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Filed under Censorship, Harassment, Middle East, Press Freedom

Freedom House: Hypocrisy and Blasphemy Laws

Freedom House has two great pieces on the global movement to ban blasphemy. The writers point those calling for such laws really have no clue what freedom of speech means nor do they have an understanding of civil liberties.

Hypocrisy Goes Global in the Blasphemy Law Campaign

First, there is Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who called for recognizing “Islamophobia as a crime against humanity” and for enacting “international legal regulations against attacks on what people deem sacred.” Yet even as he speaks dismissively of “hiding behind the excuse of freedom of expression,” Erdoğan presides over a government that is a world leader in the jailing of journalists. His administration’s campaign against critical commentators has transformed a once-lively press environment into one marked by widespread self-censorship. In such hands, an international blasphemy law would only add a veneer of religious virtue to an existing pattern of hostility toward free expression.

Then there is Hassan Nasrallah, the political and spiritual leader of Hezbollah. In a televised speech to his followers in Lebanon, Nasrallah declared: “Those who should be held accountable, punished, prosecuted, and boycotted are those who are directly responsible for this film and those who stand behind them and those who support and protect them, primarily the United States of America.” But while Nasrallah demands punishment for those who have insulted Islam, he has publicly and repeatedly pledged solidarity with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, a man responsible for the violent deaths of up to 20,000 Muslims.

The Trouble with Blasphemy Laws

The concept of “defamation of religions” conflicts with the universal right to freedom of thought, con­science, and religion itself by designating certain ideas as off-limits for debate and discussion by believ­ers and nonbelievers alike. Even though it may be deeply hurtful and offensive to have another person criticize your religious beliefs, this is not in and of itself a violation of your rights, and you are free to mount a defense with speech of your own. By contrast, restricting such speech is a violation of the right to free expression, codified in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Personally, I like what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis said:

“If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

Or as most people say it: “The cure for bad speech is more not less speech.”

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UPDATE: Censorship instructions from 2011 Shanghai Metro Accident

China Digital Times just released a previously untranslated set of instructions on how the Chinese media were to handle the September 2011 metro accident in Shanghai.

Censorship Vault: Shanghai Metro Crash

Two trains collided on Line 10 of the Shanghai Metro on this day last year, injuring almost 300 passengers. The accident was initially blamed on a signal failure but was later traced to human error.

The just released documents from the State Council of Information stated at the time:

Please close all news discussion boards related to the Shanghai Metro tailgating incident. Promptly clean up and delete messages which seize the opportunity to attack the Party, the government, Party leaders and the social system. Promptly remove discussions seeking to mobilize or incite action. (September 27, 2011)

Gotta love the Ministry of Truth.

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Argentina update: Cristina dismisses IMF criticism. But the numbers are still wrong.

Responding to IMF President Christine Lagarde using soccer terms to criticize the economic statistics released by Argentina’s government, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner used her speech at the opening of the United Nations’ General Assembly to tell the world her country is not a soccer club.

The president pushed back against the IMF, saying:

“I want to tell the head of the IMF that this is not a soccer game. The (global) economic and political crisis is the most severe on record since the ‘30s.”

The problem Argentina faces, is that no one in the world — except Kirchner — believes the numbers the official statistics agency publishes.

Argentina is the only leading world economy and IMF member whose numbers have been rejected by the Washington-based IMF as unreliable.

Critics of its statistics contend Fernandez’s leftist-oriented government greatly understates inflation. The government’s INDEC statistics agency has reported monthly inflation below 1 percent for more than two years, while Argentines have seen price rises of two or three times higher.

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Argentina’s risk rating last week, potentially increasing borrowing costs for anyone doing business with the country.

And to repeat what I said earlier this has an impact on U.S companies wanting to do business in Argentina and that means it has an impact on U.S. jobs.

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Argentina: Latest example of why US should care about free press elsewhere

During the past few years the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner government in Argentina has been playing fast and loose with economic reporting in the country. At the same time the government has been attacking the independence of Argentina’s media.

The cooking of the economic books and attacks against free media are linked and have an impact on U.S. jobs.

According to official Argentina government figures, a person can survive on six pesos a day. (US$1.30 on the official rate, US$1 on the black market.) The problem is that six pesos only gets a person a small sweet cookie. A more realistic number, said one university study is 24 pesos.

In addition, private economists say the country’s annual inflation is 24%. The official rates is 10%.

Since 2007 when the Kirchner government has ordered INDEC, the official  statistic agency to fudge the inflation numbers, few people have taken the official numbers seriously. For example, The Economist stopped the INDEC numbers as part of their weekly index on inflation.

Now, the IMF is stepping in. The BBC reports that Argentina  could face sanctions from the IMF unless it starts producing reliable growth and inflation figures. IMF chief Christine Lagarde gave Argentina until 17 December to address the problem.

Using a football (soccer in the US) analogy, Lagarde said the IMF was giving Argentina a “yellow card” but was facing a “red card” if it doesn’t straighten up.

“We had to choose between the yellow card and the red card. We chose the yellow card. If no progress has been made, then the red card will be out,” she said.

But getting the government to stop lying to itself and the rest of the world is only part of the issue.

Along with forcing the once-honored government statistics agency to “fudge” the figures, the Kirchner government has also been harassing the independent media. The same media that dares to report that a person cannot survive on six pesos a day.

The Kirchner government uses tax law, news print supplies, and anti-monopoly legislation to attack its critics. Freedom House ranks the Argentine media as Partly Free. Besides the government actions, there have been physical and other types of attacks on members of the media, including the murder of community journalist Adams Ledesma Valenzuela.

Why is this important to Main Street America?

One word: Jobs.

For businesses to operate reliable and accurate information is necessary. Especially important are accurate reports of inflation and economic growth.

The top five exports to Argentina from the United States (2011) are:

  • Fuel Oil: US$1,300 million
  • Organic Chemicals: US$857 million
  • Petroleum products: US$496 million
  • Plastics: US$478 million
  • Computer Accessories: US$464 million

Other key exports include telecommunications, civilian aircraft, pharmaceuticals and industrial machines.

Predictably, the top-5 states exporting to Argentina reflect where those products are strong (2011):

  • Texas:  US$2,563,263,155
  • Florida: US$1,738,007,600
  • Illinois: $483,396,402
  • California: $443,545,461
  • Louisiana: $411,135,903

Without trade to Argentina, each of those states would be so much weaker economically. (And that has a direct impact on US jobs.)

To sell these items to Argentina, the U.S. companies have to have accurate and reliable economic numbers. Other companies hoping to sell to Argentina need these same accurate and reliable numbers.

But with government manipulation of the official statistics and a campaign to intimidate the independent media, getting accurate and reliable numbers seems far-fetched.

Transparent government policies and independent media in other countries have a direct impact on what happens in the USA.

If U.S. firms cannot rely on the numbers they get from Argentina, they may not consider selling to that market. That could mean fewer new jobs in the American economy.

And fewer jobs means a bleaker Main Street, USA.

For Argentina the pressure is building to at least correct the transparency issue.

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Filed under Censorship, Connections, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, Jobs, South America, Trade