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Pirates, Propaganda, and CNN

-“Heroes and villians” — it is standard rhetorical fare for elected officials, media outlets, and the general public.  We all want our uplifting stories of freedom, set against the backdrop of immorality and danger.

The story of the Somali pirates is no exception.  This is not to say many of the pirates are in fact anything other than bandits.  When someone points a gun at someone else and take them hostage, the range of scenarios in which the gun-toter  could be considered anything but a criminal start to narrow greatly.

But the dominant narrative has obscured other realities on the ground.  Somalis are apparently quite angry at European ships, and with good reason.  In a widely circulated essay on The Huffington Post, Independent (UK) newspaper journalist Johann Hari spells out the gruesome details:

In 1991, the government of Somalia – in the Horn of Africa – collapsed … As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken…People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Continue reading “Pirates, Propaganda, and CNN”

The Nonprofit Newspaper?

Good reporting on U.S. foreign policy requires good reporting, period.  As newspapers shrink and reporters get laid off, accurate American discourse about our actions in the world becomes less likely.

 

The best (worst) example is Iraq.  Even before the Obama Administration began, flagging public interest intersected with shrinking media budgets to result in Baghdad reporting cutbacks.

In less expensive parts of the world, we can expect more of the same. As newspapers go belly-up, the pool of funds available to hire foreign correspondents is declining as well.  Citizens of  the Superpower who depend on mainstream media are going to have even less information about America’s global footprint.

But instead of watching our for-profit media institutions go out of business, maybe we should stop thinking of them in business terms.   Liberal media critic Eric Alterman just published a fine column on a topic getting increasing play in some circles:  the nonprofit newspaper.

Continue reading “The Nonprofit Newspaper?”

The Al Qaeda two-step shuffle

Al Qaeda and the “war on terror” seem to be the ultimate linguistic props.  Now you see them, now you don’t.

First, the disappearance — the Washington Post reports in late March on the new name for the “war on terror”:

In a memo e-mailed this week to Pentagon staff members, the Defense Department’s office of security review noted that “this administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror’ [GWOT.] Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.’ “

Then, the reappearance — President Obama speaking on Afghanistan at a NATO summit a week later:

“France recognises that having al-Qaeda operate safe havens that can be used to launch attacks is a threat not just to the United States but to Europe…  In fact it is probably more likely that al-Qaeda would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack in Europe than in the United States because of proximity.”

At least we are getting some variety.  Under the Bush Administration, it was all Al Qaeda, all the time.

Continue reading “The Al Qaeda two-step shuffle”

“That wasn’t a date…”

Did they shake hands?  Did they chat?  Was there a peck on the cheek?  As with all first dates, it depends on who you talk to.

The New York Times reported that a pair of top diplomats from the U.S. and Iran had a polite chat at an international conference on Afghanistan this Tuesday.  According to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

“It was cordial, unplanned and they agreed to stay in touch,” Mrs. Clinton said to reporters at the end of the conference. “I myself did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation.”

But not so fast.  As the BBC later reported, an Iranian government spokesperson denied the whole thing:

“No meeting or talk, be it formal or informal, official or unofficial between Iran and US officials took place on the sideline of this conference…We categorically deny the reports published in this regard.”

One thing is for sure.  The delicate dance has begun.

Continue reading ““That wasn’t a date…””

With a friend like this, who needs democracy?

A repost of my comment at Sepia Mutiny and Chapati Mystery:

On the intersection of U.S. policy and Pakistani politics, I was particularly surprised to read this link off a Pakistani news twitter feed:

Obama calls Zardari, discusses mutual cooperation
Pakistan News.Net / Friday 27th March, 2009 (ANI)

Islamabad, Mar. 27 : US President Barack Obama telephoned President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday to discuss mutual cooperation and the situation in the South Asian region. Obama and Zardari spoke about the “Friends of Democratic Pakistan” forum initiative, aimed at promoting and strengthening democracy in Pakistan, The Nation reports…

Zardari, who launched the initiative of ‘Friends of Democratic Pakistan’ (FODP) in New York in September 2008, will chair the Friends’ Ministerial meeting being held in Tokyo on April 17. The forum consists of 25 countries and multilateral institutions…

What is the “Friends of Democratic Pakistan” forum, and why is Zardari chairing it?

Continue reading “With a friend like this, who needs democracy?”

Dollar vs. Dollar

Until recently, a fundamental reality has been missing from U.S. media coverage of the “drug wars” in Latin America.    Time and again, our headlines have pointed to the scary “other” — the corrupt Mexican police officer, the Colombian drug trafficker, the peasant farmer who ekes out a living growing a poisonous crop.

A case in point:   Mexican Drug Cartel Violence Spills Over, Alarming U.S.  (NY Times)

You don’t have to dig into the article, just take a look at the headline.  The scary violence of America’s next-door neighbor is suddenly threatening us.

In this telling, we Americans are the besieged victims — the people who are subjected to a flood of poison from violent smugglers and cartels.  But this approach only works if one ignores basic economics.  The narrative of “governments vs. traffickers” or “U.S. vs. foreign cartels” misses the point.

The drug war is best understood as a battle of dollar versus dollar — a bloody war between the dollars of U.S. taxpayers and the dollars of U.S. consumers.

Continue reading “Dollar vs. Dollar”

Obama’s holiday message to Iranians

U.S. President Barack Obama released the video greetings below to the Iranian government and people.

The Nowruz holiday greetings are a rare opportunity to hear an American leader praising the culture and accomplishments of Iranian society.  More than 50 years after the U.S. overthrew Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, this is a  hopeful sign that perhaps our two nations can find a path to better relations.

Whitehouse.gov links:  video, video with farsi subtitles, text of speech, or Farsi translation

A Letter to an Editor

Response to “Pakistan in Turmoil,” March 15, 2009, by Barbara Crossette in The Nation

Ms. Crossette’s article is strong on explaining political rivalries, but misses an opportunity to reveal the new gains of Pakistani civil society.
Continue reading “A Letter to an Editor”

Opinion: Marching for democracy in Pakistan

Viewpoint: Marching for democracy in Pakistan

By Sahar Shafqat

The Baltimore Sun (online)
March 12, 2009

Imagine this scenario: What if a U.S. president, in blatant contravention of the U.S. Constitution, fired every Supreme Court justice because he didn’t like their decisions, and filled the court instead with his own cronies? What if a new president was elected on a promise to restore the rightful judges to their legal positions after he was in office? What would you do if he didn’t follow through on that promise?

That is the position that Pakistan’s people find themselves in today.
Continue reading “Opinion: Marching for democracy in Pakistan”

Opinion: “U.S. has chance to help real democracy in Pakistan” | Atlanta Journal-Constitution

U.S. has chance to help real democracy in Pakistan

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Thursday, March 12, 2009

By Sanjeev Bery, Wajiha Ahmed

Today, a major Pakistani movement for democratic reform will challenge Pakistani President Asif Zardari with a call for government accountability. Known as the Lawyers Movement, this coalition of civil activists will give America a chance to voice support for the strengthening of Pakistan’s democratic institutions.

Members of this movement will begin what they are calling the Long March —- a multi-day walk across the nation that will end in the capital, Islamabad. They are marching to demand a restoration of the independent judges that the former U.S.-backed dictator Pervez Musharraf removed. Continue reading “Opinion: “U.S. has chance to help real democracy in Pakistan” | Atlanta Journal-Constitution”