Tag Archives: International Trade

Connection: Jobs and Visas

Some time back the Orlando Chamber of Commerce did a study that showed for every 82 visas issued by the U.S. embassy and consulates in Brazil, one job is created in Orlando,Fla.

And look what we have now from Gallup: Orlando Tops Largest U.S. Metro Areas in Job Creation.

Orlando has recently experienced strong hiring growth in the hospitality and leisure sector — the greatest source of jobs in the area, which is known for its theme parks.

The growth in jobs in Orlando comes because foreign visitors want to enjoy all the theme parks in the area. (Think Universal Studios and Disney World.)

And as noted before, the people who issue those visas are U.S. Foreign Service officers. The problem is that no one seems to pay attention to the State Department budget or its staffing needs.

Orlando is a great example of a direct connection between the State Department budget and a local economy. Would be nice if more people (and news organizations) made the connection.

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Filed under International News Coverage, Jobs, Trade

Turkey takes dark turn

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has always had a thin skin and low tolerance for anyone criticizing him. He has now taken the dramatic step of not only attacking a newspaper that has regularly opposed his actions, but Erdogan ordered the paper seized by the government. (See list of articles below.)

The take over is just another in a series of actions by Erdogan and his government that has earned Turkey a status not having free media from Freedom House.

According to the Freedom House report, news organizations that criticized the Erdogan government were harassed and often individual journalists were targeted with death threats.

In its report on Turkey, Freedom House laid out the steady decline of press freedom in Turkey ever since Erdogan became a national leader — prime minister and now president:

The government enacted new laws that expanded both the state’s power to block websites and the surveillance capability of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). Journalists faced unprecedented legal obstacles as the courts restricted reporting on corruption and national security issues. The authorities also continued to aggressively use the penal code, criminal defamation laws, and the antiterrorism law to crack down on journalists and media outlets.

turkey_5years_capture_updated-445x480All this happens while the Turkish constitution claims free press is a guarantee. Unfortunately for the Turkish media, the government has pushed through a number of laws that get supported by the courts, all in the name of fighting terrorism.

Press freedom in Turkey has been in a steady decline for the past five years. The latest move by Erdogan is perhaps the most blatant attack on free press.

The highly popular Zaman was taken over by the government when police raided the offices late Friday, March 4. The paper was only barely able to get its last indpendent edition out before the takeover.

Zaman was tied to Erdogan former ally and now political foe Fethullah Gulen. The two had a falling out as Erdogan moved toward a more militant Islamic style government. Gulen — who lives in the United States in self-imposed exile — preaches a tolerant Islam and promotes dialogue among Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the so-called Faiths of the Book.

The latest Freedom House report of political freedom puts Turkey in the PARTLY FREE category, but with a downward trend. It is nestled in with other PARTLY FREE societies such as Zambia, Tanzania and Nicaragua.

Now, why should we, in the United States, care about what goes on in Turkey.

There is the basic humanitarian issue, that people should have political freedom and with it, press freedom. But on a larger issue, Turkey controls the Bosporus Strait. Through this narrow strip of water millions of dollars of goods flow in an out of the Black Sea. If turkey were to take a dislike to a country, it could prevent vessels bound to/from that from passing through.

Then there is the refugee issue. Thousands of Middle East refugees pass through Turkey on their way to Greece and western Europe. The European Union needs help in dealing with this complicated humanitarian issue.

And, Turkey is a member of NATO. It is bound to North America and western Europe by treaty. What Turkey does inside its own borders has a direct impact on U.S. foreign policy — diplomatic and military. It is a vital partner in the fight against ISIS and in dealing with the Syrian civil war.

If the Turkish government shuts down the independent media, then the only way the rest of the world will know what is going on in that country will be what the government wants the world to know. Given the volatility of the region and important role Turkey plays in the area, we need to know as much as possible about not only what the government is thinking but also the reactions of the country’s citizenry.

Articles and commentaries about the take over of Zaman:

 

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

Latest corruption case in China has global impact

When the Shanghai stock market fell at the beginning of the year, markets in London and New York shook.

When China showed official numbers that its economic growth rate might falter, economists around the globe talked of dire financial consequences around the world.

And yet, anyone who has spent any time dealing with the China and its government would know — or should know — that the numbers released by the Chinese government are always suspect and the Chinese stock markets are about as transparent as a block of onyx.

Rule one in dealing with the Chinese government is that all things must be bent to serve the official line. If the official position is that China will have a 7 percent growth in GDP, then the appropriate government agencies must ensure the numbers they put out show at least that level. (A 6.9 percent growth is not acceptable, because it is not at least seven.)

And now Wang Bao’an, director of the National Bureau of Statistics is under investigation for  “serious violations of party discipline.” That phrase is veiled code for corruption.

As Charles Riley at CNN noted, this calls into question the data presented by Wang:

The…announcement, which is bound to raise new questions about the accuracy of Beijing’s economic statistics, came just hours after Wang briefed reporters on the state of China’s economy.

China Digital Times notes economist Xu Dianqing, of Beijing Normal University and the University of West Ontario, has raised doubts about China’s official growth rate for some time. According to Xu’s calculations, the real rate is between 4.3 percent 5.2 percent, not the official growth rate of 6.9 percent for 2015.

Granted, the investigation against Wang may not be related to his current job but may involve other activities during his 24 years in the finance ministry.

Yes, the Chinese government and ruling party (one in the same) are moving on corrupt officials. It would be nice to say that they are doing this because it is the right thing and that corruption is bad. Instead, the move seems more motivated to prevent a popular uprising against the ruling party.

China ranks 83 out of 168 on the perceived corruption index of Transparency International. (The higher the number, the more corrupt.) And we all know that China ranks near the bottom for political, social and media freedom.

The Communist Party holds onto its power largely because it promises the people of China a better life. If that better life is stalled or blocked by corrupt officials, the people see fewer reasons to support the party. If people are hurt or damaged by shoddy workmanship in infrastructure projects or public buildings because of corruption, there is less support for the government.

By moving against corrupt officials, the government wants to show that it is “doing the people’s will” by rooting out the (few) bad influences in power. The problem is that an anti-democratic, free-press bashing government by its very nature is a breading ground for corruption. There are no independent checks on abusive government officials. The Chinese government only tends to move against corrupt officials after the corruption is so blatant as to cause social unrest.

So China is corrupt. What does that mean for the average American.

For starters, look at the first two paragraphs of this entry. The world’s economy went into a tailspin because of activities in a country that regularly cooks the books and that has no resources to independently check the factual nature of its economic numbers.

Jobs in the United States are put at risk when China falters.

Yes, the U.S. buys more from China than it sells, but in the past few years the exports to China have been growing. Until the Chinese economy started to hesitate.

Exports to China were on a steady growth pattern for the past decade. January-November exports to China rose from $37 billion in 2005 to $109 billion in 2014. Then, last year, that number slipped to $106 billion. In fact, 2015 showed a marked decline month-on-month in exports to China.

Unlike what we import from China, what we sell is high-end aircraft parts, machinery and electronic equipment. These are products made with high-wage labor. A reduction in sales of these types of products overseas could mean more people forced to take lower-paid jobs and, therefore, contributing less to the American economy.

So, a handful of experts were keeping an eye on the situation in China. And occasionally there would be a story about the status of the Chinese economy. There would also be stories about how the changes in the Chinese economy affect trade with the United States. But where were the stories that showed how the Chinese economic changes impacted individual Americans?

How difficult would it be for a local reporter in Seattle or South Carolina to ask the local Boeing factory how sales to China were going? Along with the expected follow-up of, “What does it mean to local production and employment?”Washington2China

Or maybe for a local reporter in Galveston, Tex., to ask about how chemical sales are doing with China. (Yes, they are also down.)

Or even a reporter from Louisiana to call the New Orleans Port Authority to make inquiries about how shipments to and from China are doing.

Or how about a reporter along the Mississippi River asking how grain sales are doing to the rest of the world — and China in particular?

Had any of these inquiries been made and followed through, perhaps there would have been less shock about the slow down in China. People would not have been happy about the slow down, but at least they would have understood what was happening and why.

And the last time I looked, explaining what happened and why is part of the job description of being a jorunalist.

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Filed under China, Corruption, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, Story Ideas, Trade

Getting Americans To Understand Foreign Aid

Most Americans don’t really understand what foreign aid is all about nor how much it costs.

Real quick:

  1. Foreign aid is designed to promote US interests from humanitarian to economic to political to security.
    1. That means, we — as Americans — don’t like to see people starving and suffering (humanitarian).
    2. We want other countries to prosper so they can buy our products and send visitors to our country. (economic)
    3. We need allies in the world for hundreds of complicated issues. Recipients of foreign aid might more receptive to American overtures if we are seen as a friend. (political)
    4. Prosperous, stable and economically viable countries are not breeding grounds for illegal immigrants, gang members or terrorists. (security)
  2. Foreign aid is not expensive
    1. Recent Pew survey showed 33 percent of American people thought foreign aid was the most expensive part of the US budget. (26 percent said interest on the debt, 20 percent said Social Security and 4 percent sais transportation.)
    2. Real numbers are that Social Security accounts for 17 TIMES the amount spent on foreign aid.
    3. Foreign aid accounts for less than 1 percent of the US budget

Part of the problem is the fact that the State Department and the US Agency for International Development do a lousy job of explaining things.

Fortunately, as Daniel Altman points out in Foreign Policy, there is a way to address that problem. But only if the State Department gets smart about the terms it uses and its public outreach activities.

Altman says the latest Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review being written at State could go a long way to improving how foreign aid is seen and perceived.

While Altman uses a rather crass cost-benefit analysis, his point is valid.

The cost of saving a child in Guatemala from a deadly case of malaria might be about $16, but that child might buy close to $100 a year in American goods and services over the course of his or her working life. By paying for malaria treatments in Guatemala, the U.S. government would become a machine for transforming $16 worth of American output today into $100 a year of American output 15 or 20 years down the road. At a discount rate of, say, 5 percent a year, the total return would be roughly 6,000 percent.

The low-cost nature of US development aid does have a long-term and wide-reaching impact on the U.S. domestic market as well as its international security. (If that same Guatemalan kid gets a decent job, there will be less incentive to go to the United States illegally. Likewise, that same kid will not be tempted to join a gang in order to make ends meet.)

A lot of the lack of understanding about how foreign aid works and how much it costs can be laid at the feet of the US agencies. But a whole lot of blame can also be laid at the feet of the US media.

If reporters spent a little more time on stories — granted, a luxury most of us don’t have — they could put the programs into context for readers/viewers/listeners. Additional stories could be generated that show the connection between US aid and US domestic benefits.

Maybe — and here I might jest be a cock-eyed optimist — once there is enough general information about how much US development aid costs and its benefits, then maybe, just maybe, some reporters might have the guts to call to task the Congress-critters who think the way to balance the budget is to cut foreign aid.

On the issue of cutting foreign aid to balance the budget, I like Neil De Grasse Tyson’s response to proposed cuts to NASA and space exploration: [Paraphrasing here] Cutting the NASA budget to balance the budget is like deleting a couple of WORD documents instead of many of the JPEG files in an effort to free up space on your hard drive.

[FYI, the NASA budget is also just around 1 percent of the federal budget.]

The NASA and foreign aid money brings in much larger benefits than the outlay. The facts are there, people are just not getting them.

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Did John Oliver hit the mark on US coverage of the Indian election?

The online New York Times has a series of blog and news postings about news from around the world. Nida Najar from India posted a blistering (and well-deserved) attack on the US media’s lack of coverage of India’s election. And the attack was based on a bit done by former The Daily Show correspondent John Oliver: John Oliver on the American Media’s India Blind Spot

And sure enough, a quick Google Search of “Indian Election 2014” does not yield one U.S. media outlet reporting on the election.

In a way this is not surprising. Oliver points to the McLaughlin Group as the only news show that discussed the election, only to have it being dismissed by the host as irrelevant because “it’s not even in our hemisphere.” (For once I found myself agreeing with Pat Buchanan: “It’s 800 million voters! More than 1 billion people!”)

For the political and economic well being of the United States, India matters. (I can be snarky: The importance if India is well beyond tech support. Where do you think you are calling when your computer crashes?)

India is the 11th most important trading partner with the United States, accounting for 1.7 percent of all US trade. That puts it in the same neighborhood as France, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.

Most of what the US sell to India are not raw materials or agricultural products but finished goods that require good jobs:

  • Misc. manufactured commodities
  • Transportation equipment
  • Chemicals
  • Computer and electronic products

So, yes, the US needs to be informed and aware of what is going on in India, if for no other reason, because our economic well being depends on it.

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

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

Knowing the rest of the world is not the same as giving up on your own country

Helen Gao has a great little piece in the New York Times about how her American experiences changed how she talks with her family and friends about China.

Back in China, Watching My Words

Interestingly, Ms. Gao faced something many of also face.

“Often, I find conversations about China with Chinese relatives and friends trickier to navigate than those with American acquaintances. In America, my firsthand perspective of China gave me credibility and strengthened my stories and arguments. But here in China, my time spent in America seems only to have alienated me from others. If I say something critical, it is often taken not as social commentary but as a sign of shifted loyalty, of contempt for my homeland, of uncritical worship of all things American.

I have lived in six countries on three continents — traveled extensively in a fourth continent and seven additional countries. And nothing has made me more appreciative of the liberties we have in the United States than all those years abroad. Yet, to so many in the US the reaction to what is good about the rest of the world comes out similar to what Ms. Gao faces in China.

Because there are some good things in other countries, does not mean one’s home country is bad. It just means there are differences and maybe some ideas that can improve you homeland.

Unfortunately, too many Americans — including too many elected officials who set policies — have little or no understanding about the rest of the world. They are woefully and deliberately ignorant of the rest of the world.

Some argue for an isolationist political policy (“We are not the world’s policeman.”) or a trade policy that would destroy the American economy (“Slap massive tariffs on all imports until US factories re-open.”). Or they have a simplistic view of foreign relations (“Send in the Marines” or “Cut off aid to country X until they always do what we tell them to do.”)  They just don’t see the connections with the rest of the world is a fact of life that cannot be changed.

The issue, as so many have argued, is not that the United States is weakening, it is that other countries are gaining in economic and political strength. There are more players in the global market and the US has to adapt to that reality.

Besides the isolationist view of too many opinion leaders, I also blame the lack of reporting that puts how Main Street and the rest of world fit together for America’s lack of understanding of how the world and America fit together.

The stories can be fun and informative:

These are not difficult stories to do and they show LOCAL people how they are connected to the world.

Maybe with a bit more reporting along these lines we will have fewer ignorant comments about political and economic isolationism.

Oh, and getting back to Ms. Gao’s issue, maybe if China had a free press instead of a top-down party directed media, the Chinese people would be less ignorant about how things are not only in China but also in the rest of the world.

 

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Filed under Censorship, China, Connections, International News Coverage, Story Ideas