Monthly Archives: February 2014

Trade & education: Foreign and domestic connections

Gallup released a study that showed a majority of Americans see view foreign trade as a positive, with 54% seeing opportunities for economic growth through exports, while only 34% see a threat from imports.

While there are some partisan differences in how trade is seen, the real divide is in education levels. The survey showed  college graduates and those with postgraduate education are more likely to see foreign trade as an opportunity for growth than those with no college or even some college education.

Trade as opportunity by education

What does this mean?

  1. It means that at least more people are seeing that international connections — via trade — are important.
  2. It shows that a large group of the American people are either not receiving or are not processing information about international trade.

To be sure, the current international trade situation does indeed hurt those without higher education.

The United States primarily exports agriculture products (and farmers need a lot of education to keep doing their job) and high-end finished products. Most of the low-skill related jobs that can be exported have long left the U.S. market. So it is to be expected that those with less education would feel more threatened than those who have higher education and advanced work skills.

Part of the debate over trade is not as simple as “They are shipping our jobs overseas” and “Exports=jobs.” Both are true but there is a lot of grey between these points.

Companies will always go to where they can get the best economic value for their product. If that means it is cheaper to make something in China or Vietnam and ship it to the States than to make it in the States, they will do that. (Interestingly, there is a big move by companies to move back to the US so they can be closer to their market. Again, unfortunately for the less educated, less trained workers, these returning companies are using robotic and other high-tech methods to be competitive. That means higher-skills are needed for the new American jobs.)

And if higher skills are needed, then higher education — even if it is a two-year community college program — is needed for the workforce.

So what is needed in the trade debate is some discussion of this basic point: For America to compete in the global market, education is a key element.

Unfortunately this is missed by the loud proponents of free trade and loud no trade advocates. And it is missed by too many reporters covering the issue.

Too often trade stories focus on the backroom dealings at Doha or just the numbers. These are simple stories that do not connect to the people on Main Street. Likewise, no effort seems to be made to connect issues that appear domestic  — such as the need for more access to training and higher education — with the international story.

Trade is an international issue as well as a domestic issue. And because American exports depend on an educated and well-trained workforce, that makes education an international issue as well as a domestic one.

 

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Filed under Connections, Story Ideas, Trade

Uganda’s anti-gay law has roots in USA

Sometimes finding a local-global connection is not hard.

Today Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signed a law into effect that threatens jail terms up to life for anyone having gay sex. The law also allows authorities to toss into jail anyone failing to report any knowledge of gay activity. (Uganda’s Museveni signs anti-gay bill, defying donors, Washington)

On the bright side, the new law does not threaten death, as the first iteration in 2009 did.

And where did this great idea come from?

Well it seems that the religious right from the United States have moved their fight against “the gay agenda” from the States — where they are losing their bigoted/homophobic battle — to Africa, where already conservative societies are ready to show how tough they are.

Back in 2010, Jeffrey Gettleman reported for the New York Times on the influence of the U.S. religious right in creating  the atmosphere for the original legislation — that provided the death penalty for gays — to the version just signed into law. (Americans’ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push)

There is even a documentary of how the religious right pushed their agenda in Uganda: God Loves Uganda.

The BBC has a great piece from December 2013 about the law along with a map showing the dismal state of gay rights in Africa. (Ugandan MPs pass life in jail anti-homosexual law)

Besides activities of individual churches in Uganda, one of the main driving forces in setting the atmosphere for the legislation is a group known simply as The Family. One less kind term is The Christian Mafia(C Street politics: The Family sponsors death for homosexuals in UgandaThe Family is based out of a C Street house in Washington, DC and includes many of the power brokers in the city. 

And there is Jeff Sharlet’s account in his book The Family and in articles. (HarpersStraight Man’s Burden: The American roots of Uganda’s anti-gay persecutions)

Once the scope of the legislation was fully realized — and most likely the political fallout at home — The Family and many of its members came out against “Kill Gays” legislation. But did nothing to stop the legislation that is now law.

A major player in the religious right in the United States used its contacts and influence to promote an agenda that is the antithesis of peace and understanding — items I was taught are the foundations of Christian belief. I have seen hundreds of Christian organizations work in Honduras, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. It is true in some cases the individuals seemed to care more for passing out bibles than providing for the physical well-being of the people served. But by and large these are good people providing housing, medical care and education to people denied the basics by their own societies.

And The Family will say they also provide help to the poor. And they do. But they — and their followers/supporters — also bring hate and fear.

The link between what is happening in Uganda and the United States is direct. And it is a shame that an organization based in the United States with many members of Congress listed as members/associates has helped create an atmosphere of persecution that has now led to a law that could jail hundreds — if not thousands — for just being human.

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Filed under Africa, Connections, International News Coverage

Hong Kong journalists fighting for freedom

A demonstration over the weekend by Hong Kong journalists showed pretty clearly that they have not given up on rule of law, free speech and freedom of press. (Hong Kong journalists take to streets to march for press freedom)

After all, these things are guaranteed in Hong Kong until 2047 — by international treaty.

Ever since China took over Hong Kong (1997 for those of you who could not remember), journalists have been under pressure to bow to the party line coming from Beijing.

As long as there has been a Hong Kong, most media owners have done all they could to keep the ruling government happy. That means before 1997 it was bowing to London.

The difference between pre-1997 and now, however, is that now many of the tycoons owning media outlets are afraid of hurting their gazzilion-dollar deals in mainland China. So they fire anyone on their staff who does not push a pro-Beijing position.

China learned early on in its opening to the West that it can influence organizations by making life (and business) difficult for foreign businesses trying to do business with the Middle Kingdom. It is simple, under the structure of ruling in China, they see no difference between the government and business operations. (That is changing a bit but not really that much.) Likewise, because, under Communist rule, the media are just another arm of the ruling party, this must also be so in other countries.

They project their policies and perceptions on the rest of the world — as many do — but unlike most other governments, Beijing ignores facts when presented to them. They still think they can run things by either brute force or claiming any objective reporting on human rights violations in the country either “violates Chinese sovereignty” or (and this is my favorite) “hurts the feelings of all Chinese people.”

The pressure against independent media in Hong Kong has stepped up under the latest power shift in China. And this time the pressure is not as indirect as it once was. Complaints from Beijing about how and what the Hong Kong media report are becoming more common and more strident. Pressure from scared media owners and the Hong Kong government has led to a perceived loss of press freedom in the territory.

Oh, and staying with the theme of this site, why should American journalists or the American people care about all this?

  1. In Hong Kong  freedoms are under attack. There is the basic American belief that freedom — of press, speech, assembly, etc — is a good thing.
  2. Hong Kong remains a major economic powerhouse. Without a free press, information on company valuation, risks and benefits — all the stuff that businesses use to decide investment strategy — is questionable. (Why do you think no one trusts the mainland China media when it comes to economic news?) A lot of US companies — and US jobs — depend on accurate and unbiased information.
  3. The guarantees of civic freedom in Hong Kong are part of an international treaty, not some wink and nod arrangement. International treaties are supposed to mean something. Adherence to these treaties is designed to prevent armed conflict.

 

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Filed under China, Harassment, Press Freedom

NHK credibility on the line

Government-owned news organizations usually cause some people to pause and think about the impartiality of the editorial policy. And yet some of the most respectable news organizations in the world depend on government largesse.

No one will question the quality and independent nature of the BBC.

Likewise, the Voice of America has an international reputation of fairness and impartiality. (A handful of misinformed Americans and anti-US propagandists outside America think otherwise, but the facts are against them.) And has a charter protecting journalists from interference from political control.

In Asia RTHK in Hong Kong fights daily to keep mainland China and the Hong Kong government out of its editorial policy. So far, it has been successful.

Also in Asia the NHK is seen as a global example of a government-financed news organization that digs deep, tells its stories without bias and stays with the facts.

Now, the reputation of the NHK is on the line.

In recent months, some members of the board of governors at NHK have expressed extreme positions, such as the Rape of Nanjing never happened and defended the practice of “sex slaves” during World War II.

Board member Naoki Hyakuta said Japan was lured into the war by America because of the economic embargo imposed after Japan invaded China. He also said Japan was liberating Asia from white colonialism.

According to the Independent in London, NHK’s new chairman, Katsuto Momii, stunned journalists by saying it was “only natural” that NHK should follow the government line on Japan’s territorial disputes with its neighbors. “When the government says ‘left’ we can’t say ‘right’,” he said.

It is that very statement that has people – including other news organizations in Japan – nervous.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe named Momii and Hyakuta to the 12-member board. He also named two other members who have also expressed hardline nationalist views.

Abe has a history of interfering with the NHK prodcuts.

According to The Diplomat:

[Abe] was the central player in the notorious muzzling of a NHK documentary about the comfort women that took place a few years ago. The documentary in question concerned efforts by women’s rights groups in Japan to highlight the government’s failure adequately to compensate surviving comfort women. Abe, already a very senior government official, paid a personal visit to NHK shortly before airtime to insist that the documentary be “fair and neutral.” NHK management immediately called the producers to demand drastic editorial changes to the already completed program. Last-minute revisions included the removal of all criticism of LDP policy and Emperor Hirohito. Also cut were dramatic confessions by two Japanese veterans admitting rape. Criticisms of the women’s movement were hurriedly inserted, including an interview with a discredited revisionist historian. Even the program title was whitewashed, from “Japanese Military’s Wartime Sexual Violence” to “Questioning Wartime Sexual Violence.” Far from being “fair and neutral” the final program was a lop-sided swipe at the redress movement and a complete exoneration of the LDP.

The Japanese High Court cleared Abe of charges of interference and berated the documentary producers for over reacting to Abe’s visit.

If the views of the board find their way into the NHK reporting, Japan and the world will lose what has been an excellent news organization.

A bit more reading on this issue:

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Filed under Asia, Harassment, International News Coverage

Journalism is not terrorism

Roy Greenslade at the Guardian has a great piece on the arrest and prosecution of journalists in Egypt.

Al-Jazeera reporter – journalism is not terrorism and I’m not a terrorist

A lot of commentary on this piece is not needed.

One sub-head in the column says it all when it comes to the need for free and independent media: Cairo is a rumour mill – who knows what to believe?

Just go to the column and read it. Well worth your time.

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Filed under Censorship, Harassment, International News Coverage, Middle East, Press Freedom

Angola: Asking questions is not slander or treason

Looks like the MPLA government in Angola does not want to answer questions about screams coming from prisoners inside a police station.

Reuters: Angola reporter on trial for asking about screams at police station

(Reuters) – An Angolan radio journalist has been charged with slander and defamation after allegedly asking questions about screams coming from prisoners inside a police station, an opposition party that funds his radio network said on Thursday.

Opposition party UNITA said Queiros Chiluvia, a deputy editor at Radio Despertar, was detained on Sunday after entering the Cacuaco police station in the outskirts of Luanda to obtain a reaction about screams coming from prisoners.

Rest of story.

This case comes on the heels of the trial of human rights advocate Rafael Marques de Morais.

Freedom House: Defamation Charges Against Angolan Activist an Attack on Free Speech

In January 2013, Marques was charged with filing a false complaint against a diamond mining company, private security company, and seven high-ranking generals, after he accused them of systematic human rights abuses in Angola’s diamond mining area, Lundas. According to Marques, the groups were responsible for frequent violent abuses against artisanal miners, including torture and murder. Marques did not receive official details of the case until January 2014, a year after the charges were filed.

Read full report.

Not surprisingly, Freedom house rates Angola’s political structure as Not Freeand its Press Freedom status also as Not Free and near the bottom of the freedom list.

 

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Filed under Africa, Corruption, Press Freedom

Egypt: Thinking is okay, as long as it is in line with gov’t rules

Things keep getting worse for journalists in Egypt.

The Columbia Journalism Review notes that there are now no Al Jazeera journalists operating in Egypt.

Despite what so many ill-informed Americans think, Al-Jazeera is a very good news organization that digs deep into their stories. To not have Al Jazeera working in Egypt means that the world is missing much of the nuance and multifaceted issues that take place during social upheavals.

The bottom line is that the Egyptian government has charged 20 Al Jazeera journalists of joining terrorist groups, broadcasting false news and distorting Egypt’s international image.

Just off the top of my head, nothing hurts Egypt’s international image more than tossing journalists in jail.

The most discussed case is the group known as the “Marriott Cell” (Al Jazeera arrests in Egypt cause concern). Canadian-Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, and Australian correspondent Peter Greste, were arrested in late December. The journalists were all part of Al Jazeera English and were arrested at the Marriott Hotel where they set up shop.

The charges seem against the three seem to revolve around the fact that they were talking to as many people as possible about the demonstrations against the government. And some of those sources were members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the twisted thinking of the generals running things in Egypt, interviewing someone is the same as agreeing to that person’s political beliefs. (Amazing how dictatorships all think alike on this issue. The same thing happens in China and Cuba.)

So, thanks to the Egyptian government the public is denied access to important news. Al Jazeera, which has proven itself to be on of the best in  getting information to the public about what is happening in an Arab countries, is no longer to function in the country.

The message is clear that reporters — Egyptian and foreign — need to toe the line.

Foreign correspondents are concerned that the case could establish a precedent of criminalizing ordinary journalistic contact with the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government recently designated a terrorist organization. After the military deposed Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi in July, the new government launched a clampdown on the Islamist group and other political opponents, killing more than 1,000 and arresting thousands of others.

In an attempt to reassure international journalists, Egypt’s State Information Service issued a statement on Thursday, saying that “Egyptian law does not criminalize mere contact with or prior knowing of anyone accused of committing a crime or any person imprisoned pending a case.” The statement however contained that such contact is legal unless such contact constitutes “involvement in committing the crime by means of assisting, inciting or prior agreement.”

Not everyone was reassured. Guardian correspondent Patrick Kingsley quipped on Twitter, “Thinking is ok, as long as your thoughts are in line with a set of rules we make up as we go along.”

— There are no Al Jazeera journalists reporting in Egypt, CJR 2/3/14

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Filed under Censorship, Freedom of access, Harassment, International News Coverage, Middle East, Press Freedom