Monthly Archives: October 2013

Fallows: Seeing the local/global connection in small town USA

Wonderful posting by journalist James Fallows from Eastport, Maine.

Eastport Road Map: Global Meets Local in a Very Small Town

Fallows notes all the things the town is doing trying to survive — revitalize downtown, local farmer markets, local museum, etc. And then he points out what could be a major benefit for the town: Eastport is the nearest natural harbor to Europe.

Its siting, “remote” from the rest of America’s perspective, is also a potential strategic plus. [Using] the handy online Great Circle Mapper [you get] the idea that Eastport is the closest U.S. location to ports in Europe.

Having the ideal harbor along the Great Circle may not convert into a major economic boon for Eastport. After all, goods shipped in or out of that port still have a major inland trip to make.

But if Eastport can get a rail station — something they are looking at — then maybe they could become a major trading site between the US and Europe. (Fallows points out the connection to Africa and Asia, via the Northern Passage, is also advantageous.)

It is indeed warming to see a report that shows how local and global work together.

But the, I would expect no less from Fallows. He has seen these connections for years. The real trick is getting local journalists without Fallows’ global experiences to see the connections for their local news outlets.


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Filed under Connections, Story Ideas

Context is always important

Trying to get people to understand how economic or political policies affect them means finding a way to put those policies into context.

This blog started trying to get people — mostly journalists — to understand that there are plenty of LOCAL connections to international events.

Now we have the issue of trying to help people make sense of the loss that hit the American economy thanks to the GOP-forced government shut down.

Standard & Poor’s estimated that the U.S. economy took a hit of $24 billion for just the 16 days the government was closed.

And all praise to Foreign Policy for this great graphic:

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Story Ideas, Trade

New transparency law gives Brazilian voters look at corrupt practices

Great little piece on a new law is drawing attention to stuff Brazilian lawmakers tried to keep hidden. And it shows how getting even the weakest freedom/right of information law or transparency law enacted is a benefit. Once in place, people can use it to its limits and then lobby for changes that make it work even better. (That’s how the US FOI act evolved.)

Will Brazil’s Transparency Law Work?

The recently approved Transparency Law in Brazil has exposed that one-third of the 594 Brazilian federal lawmakers have pending cases in criminal and civil courts. Most of the criminal cases against the Senators and Deputies in Brasília involve corruption charges.

The Transparency Law was approved following the presentation of over one million signatures from the Brazilian people. The purpose of the bill is to expose members of Congress with criminal charges to the public. The law is seen as a filter of allegedly corrupt candidates with the hopes of discouraging them from seeking re-election.

Rest of story

The part I like is the enumeration of the crimes the solons were charged with and how many in each party were charged. (To be sure, being charged in a civil case is nothing. Until you remember that Brazilian law allows individuals to launch civil cases that would be considered criminal cases in other countries.)

The list reveals that 190 of the 594 Brazilian federal lawmakers have at some time been charged in criminal or civil cases. The list of crimes includes manslaughter, degrading practices, abuse of power, administrative illegalities, public funding abuse, and illicit enrichment. There is a total of fourteen different crimes on the list.

Furthermore, no party is absent from the list. PMDB, the largest political party presently in Congress with 101 members, has 36 politicians that have been charged. The ruling PT party of Dilma with 100 lawmakers has 28. PSDB, the main opposition force with 60 members, has 22 with pending charges. PR with 43 members has 14 charges, and PSB of 29 members has 12 charged.

But my favorite is Congressman, Natan Donadon, who is currently in jail but is still an active member of Congress and receiving his salary.

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Filed under Corruption, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, South America

No CNN: Hong Kong is NOT in Japan nor is it in Brazil!

Really!? Really!?

During a story about killer wasps, CNN threw up a graphic that placed Hong Kong about where Sao Paulo is.

Well, they are both business centers. But Paulinos have more fun than Hong Kongers. Plus the Sao Paulo football (soccer) teams are much better.

The mission of teaching journalists about the world just became a whole lot harder!

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage

Who woulda thunk: State Department: 1 NSA: 0

The Cable (one of the best sites for foreign policy junkies) has a great piece on how the NSA has not been able to break a piece of software promoted by the State Department. (Not Even the NSA Can Crack the State Dept’s Favorite Anonymous Network)

The Tor system was developed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in 2002. Since then it has remained the best way for people to connect to the Internet anonymously. For the pro-democracy people at the State Department, this was a god-send.

Some of the tech savvy folks at State (under former Secretary Clinton) decided that Tor could be used to protect human rights and democracy advocates as they worked to organize and disseminate information.

For years, the U.S. government has offered tools and training to help foreign dissidents and journalists circumvent detection by repressive governments. In particular, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), though its Internet Anti-Censorship (IAC) Division, has provided “anti-censorship, pro-privacy software to users worldwide who are subject to foreign government-sponsored Internet censorship,” according to the BBG’s website.

In some cases, that has meant partnering with companies to improve the security of their software. The board also has worked with the Tor Solutions Group to develop “several enhancements” to its usability and performance for users subject to censorship. The BBG’s budget for Internet anti-censorship issues runs a little over $10 million a year.

Below is a summary how TOR has been and can be used to promote human rights and freedom of access:

  • Human rights activists use Tor to anonymously report abuses from danger zones.
  • Internationally, labor rights workers use Tor and other forms of online and offline anonymity to organize workers in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Tor provides the ability to avoid persecution while still raising a voice.
  • Many peaceful agents of change rely on Tor for basic privacy during legitimate activities.
  • Human Rights Watch recommends Tor to fight Chinese censorship
  • Individuals and nonprofits  can anonymously criticize corrupt businesses and government officials, thereby protect themselves from retribution.
  • Labor organizers can use Tor to reveal information regarding sweatshops that produce goods for western countries and to organize local labor.
  • Tor can help activists avoid government or corporate censorship that hinders organization.

But, as with all good things, there is a dark side.

Tor has also become popular with drug dealers, criminal hackers, and peddlers of child pornography. The online drug market Silk Road, which was shut down by federal authorities this week, relied on Tor.

So the NSA and their British colleagues tried to hack into it. With the result being, as the British say, “No joy.”

But that does not mean they will stop trying.

It’s kind of fun to watch. On one side the US government is financing a major project to protect anonymity around the world, while at the same time trying to do away with it.

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Filed under Freedom of access, International News Coverage

In China censorship=full employment

The BBC has a story out that more than 2 million people work for the Chinese government to monitor web activity. (China employs two million microblog monitors state media say)

The odd part is that this report came from state-run media.

The story in The Beijing News describes the monitors as  internet opinion analysts.

The fact that Beijing has used all tools at its disposal to censor the Internet is no surprise. What was surprising in this case was that the ruling party actually admitted it has so many people on the government payroll to try to control what people say and can see on the Internet. (And no, this is not a new “charm offensive” to show “openness.” It is just offensive.)

I guess that with the Chinese economy slowing down, Beijing needed to make sure there was plenty of work available so they can maintain social stability.

This story comes after the rulers started a major move to stop “rumors” from popping up on the Internet, including jail time.

The leadership also show their devotion to the old ways of Mao and the Cultural Revolution, rather than to anything related to a modern society.

I recent statements the party leadership call for a “public opinion struggle” to get control of what people are saying and seeing on the Internet.

The reversion to the Cultural Revolution term — “struggle” — sent a shudder down the spines of many in and out of China.  (The word “struggle” creeps people out)

This idea of a “public opinion struggle” fills people with dread. This high-spirited “struggle” [the first character of the two-character combination for “struggle”] is full of violence and viciousness, making people think of the bloody “struggle sessions” [under Mao Zedong’s rule], of bitter life-and-death “combat”, of the ridiculous struggle against the roots of ideas in oneself, and even of the idea of “class struggle” that fills everyone with bitter memories. Words like “struggle” were basically tossed out of our political dictionary after the start of economic reforms in China. People gradually forgot these revolutionary-era terms. So to use “public opinion struggle” to describe the contesting of ideas today is a blast from the past.

If anything, the latest pronouncements out of Beijing should remind people that no matter what the rest of the world things are the meanings of such words as  democracy and freedom — the ruling party in Beijing has its own meanings.

And none of those meanings has anything to do with freely electing the government leaders or with freedom of speech/press/assembly.

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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of Information, Press Freedom

Orlando sees connection between Main Street and the rest of the world

A recent study by the U.S. Commerce Dept. for the Orlando visitors’ bureau showed that the Orlando area saw an increase in Brazilian visitors. According to the Orlando Sentinel, about 1.3 million Brazilians visited Orlando last year. That number accounts for about one-third of all South American visitors to the area.

Visit Orlando commissioned the study from the Commerce Dept. Because of budget cuts over the past decade, Commerce stopped studying specific numbers of foreign visitors, relying instead on estimates.

Other major foreign contributors to the Orlando economy are an estimated 1 million Canadians and 750,000 Britons.

It was nice to see a straight-forward article from a LOCAL reporter about a LOCAL benefit from an INTERNATIONAL connection. (Orlando tourism’s Brazilian contingent grows sharply with improved head count)

Too often, too many local news organizations fail to see the connections.

Granted, in Orlando it is hard not to notice that there are a lot of foreigners at all the various amusement parks. But what so many fail to notice is that all those visitors can only show up thanks to U.S. foreign service officers around the world.

These FSOs issue the visas that most people from around the world need to visit the US.

A study some time ago in Florida showed that for each 82 visas issued in Brazil, one job in Florida is created. And the US embassy and consulates in Brazil issues tens of thousands of visas each year. (Just do the math on the 1.3 million visitors in Orlando and you will see that about 16,000 jobs were created just from Brazil.)

So with this kind of job-creating power, why do so many in the Congress want to cut the State Department’s budget? (The Ryan Plan — the gold standard for the GOP — wants to reduce the State Dept. to about 30 percent of its current size in 10 years.)

But that is a different issue.

For now, the issue is LOCAL news organizations need to pay attention to how they are affected by INTERNATIONAL events and circumstances.

In the case of Orlando and Brazil, the only reason so many Brazilians are able to go to Orlando is because Brazil has become a more wealthy country with a growing middle class. (And yes, the visas.) And Brazil got that way thanks to a lot of international trade and training, that included programs from the States.

Think about it, countries facing revolutions or economic upheavals do not make it easy for people to earn enough money to visit the US and spend money.

So yes, American journalists must keep track of what is going on overseas because much of what happens elsewhere can — and often does — have a DIRECT effect on LOCAL economies and individuals.



Filed under Connections, Jobs, South America, Story Ideas