Archive for the ‘international’ Category

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Thoughts on the Afghanistan speech: we can’t afford more war.

December 2, 2009

Last night, President Obama delivered his much-awaited speech announcing his strategy for the war in Afghanistan moving forward. I covered it, and my reaction to it, over at Care2 so if you have a sec I hope you will check it out — as well as the already very lively debate in the comments section.

In short: I think we shouldn’t be escalating. Our total troop level in Afghanistan will be at 100,000 and although the timeframe for withdrawal is tentatively set at 2011, there’s no guaranteeing that we’ll stick to that timeline. In the meantime, we’re continuing to lose dollars and human lives — two things we can’t afford to lose anymore of.

Feel free to check out my whole post here.

Also, for additional coverage I’d recommend reading other perspectives on the speech from some great writers:

The Washington Independent

David Corn at Mother Jones

And one of the smartest foreign policy bloggers around, Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy mag

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New AOL Lemondrop post: Women & the Iran Protests

July 15, 2009

The following is an excerpt of my latest post with AOL’s Lemondrop.com. To read the full post, click on the link at the end of this post.

Contrary to the news media’s coverage, the protests in Iran contesting the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn’t end when Michael Jackson died — though they are fading. One of the most intriguing facets of the protests is who’s at the forefront: women.

In a country not well known for women’s rights, this is quite remarkable. You might have heard about the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young Iranian woman shot in the streets of Tehran. Though it’s worth noting that Neda’s family said she wasn’t political, she has become the female face of the protest.

Women have been vocally supporting the candidacy of Mir Hussein Mousavi, the chief opponent to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was declared the winner the morning after the June 12 election. While the Guardian Council — which oversees elections — did a partial recount after Mousavi filed an appeal, the original results were upheld. For the last four weeks, women have marched alongside other protesters through the streets of Iran, even as officials try to stop them, tear-gas them or beat them.

Click here to keep reading.

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Is America shifting on Israel, or is the media shifting on Israel?

June 16, 2009

One of the things I love almost as much as the news is the narrative being told about the events. It’s difficult for any given person to separate the facts and the actual events taking place from the media narrative being told about it. The Iran story that I’ve been watching lately is a perfect example. No one is really 100% sure what the facts are or what even constitutes fact. MSNBC will spin it one way. Fox and/or Mitt Romney will blame Obama. Bloggers will each try to put their own spin on it. And gradually, the narrative being constructed by the media may or may not reflect the actual facts.

Since Iran has been the Middle East story of the week, and America seems to be able to focus on only one Middle Eastern country at a time, the other big Middle East story of the week hasn’t been getting quite as much attention other than from foreign policy geeks. That story, of course, is the Israel-Palestine peace process.

A few weeks ago President Obama met with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. In early June, Obama delivered a speech to the Middle East from Cairo. This past Sunday, Netanyahu addressed his people on the topic of the peace process.

After these three historic events, a new narrative has emerged: America’s relationship with Israel is changing. Over the past couple of weeks have seen a plethora of articles and blog posts from both seasoned journalists and amateur bloggers alike, all suggesting the same ideas: the power of the legendary Israel lobby is weakening. President Obama is pressuring Netanyahu. Obama is the next Jimmy Carter [because Carter was the last US president who put real pressure on Israel to make peace]. Americans are gradually shifting from unconditionally supporting Israel to supporting a two-state solution. America’s relationship with Israel is changing dramatically. It’s a new chapter in the two countries’ relationship.

The question to me is: has American public opinion on support for Israel really changed? Or is this a shift in the media narrative but not actually a shift in America’s opinions and policy? Is the course of American foreign policy really shifting, or is this talk from speculative cable news pundits?

Is it REALLY a new era in America’s approach to Israel and Palestine? Or am I hoping for too much here?

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The New, New Journalism: Andrew Sullivan on Iran

June 15, 2009

There’s a lot of noise circulating right now about how the mainstream media networks like CNN and Fox have failed in providing adequate coverage and on-the-ground reporting on the events taking place in Iran. But there hasn’t been much talk about who HAS been providing stellar coverage of the situation.

Over the last couple of days I’ve been glued to Andrew Sullivan’s blog over at The Atlantic. Andrew’s blog is already high-quality content on a daily basis, but over the weekend he began blogging up a storm in real time as the events unfolded in Iran. Unlike big mainstream media outlets, whose reporting has been hindered by elaborate quality regulations, a lack of foreign bureaus to provide them direct on-the-ground footage, and a strong dislike for all forms of new media, Andrew’s blog has been going nonstop, hindered by none of those things. He is updating multiple times a day, sometimes multiple times an hour, every time he has any new piece of information.

He is gradually weaving together a complex narrative of the events taking place half a world away by piecing together a collection of eye-witness accounts, Iranian tweets, cell-phone videos uploaded on Youtube, reader emails from the US and from far away, riveting photos, and links to a multitude of blogs both big and small.

Old media types might shudder at the idea of linking to an unknown blog, but new media journalists like Sullivan aren’t concerned about how big the readership of your blog is or whether you’re just a student writing your observations on Twitter. It’s not about your press credentials; it’s about free flow of information. In this new media landscape, if you’ve got information, it’s worth sharing — no matter who you are.

CNN and other MSM outlets are running a few articles about what’s going on, but they can’t compete with this – real-time accounts through a variety of different mediums, collected together in one place being updated by the minute.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, you need to. Sullivan’s blog is becoming the only source worth reading for accurate, detailed coverage of the events in Iran.

This is what journalism should be.

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A revolution in Iran, where Twitter plays a part

June 14, 2009

I don’t have anything new to say about the situation in Iran this weekend. Really, no one in the US knows anything more than anyone else does. There’s no official confirmation yet on whether the election was rigged, but anyone with half a brain can see that there is clearly foul play going on.

I think what is interesting and unique in this case is that a rigged election could have happened in a developing country 30 years ago and the people would have had to put up with it. But this time, they can’t and they won’t be silenced. The lengths to which the Iranian regime has gone to silence them — shutting down  internet connections, ordering reporters out of the country, attacking protesters — are tremendous, but the protests continue on anyways, growing in strength by the hour. And despite the fact that MSM outlets like the BBC are being kicked out or having their cameras and film taken away, and CNN is barely reporting, worldwide coverage of the situation is growing thanks to Twitter and the blogosphere.

The streets in Tehran, at least from the stream of tweets, blog posts, and cellphone videos coming out of the country, are filled with protesters who managed to organize despite the fact that many of their resources have been taken away. And it all started with one Tweet from a Moussavi supporter:

mousavi

Did their organizing via Twitter work? You decide.

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The mainstream media ignored Delara Darabi. New media didn’t.

May 2, 2009

Early Friday morning in Tehran, 23-year-old Delara Darabi was executed in the Rasht prison in Iran for a crime that happened when she was 17. Human rights groups had been protesting and trying to save her from execution for months, since it is a violation of international law to execute anyone for a crime that occurred when they were a minor. Despite the protests, Iranian authorities executed her on Friday with no notice.

What is perhaps the saddest part of her story, however, is that the mainstream, traditional news media did not report the story at all. A Google News search on Delara Darabi revealed, as of late last night, a total of ZERO mainstream US news stories. The only stories about Delara as of last night were from Iranian and international sources, blogs, and human rights groups.

Today, the mainstream media started to pick up on it, with stories from the Los Angeles Times, BBC, United Press International, New York Times, and a few others. Still, at the time of writing this post there are only 206 news stories about Delara Darabi’s unjust execution. By comparison, there are currently 762 news stories about Matthew McConaughey, and 7,078 news stories about Arlen Specter.

So, how, you might ask, did word of the story first break? Who reported it first? The answer is: Darabi’s execution was first reported on Twitter. And then the first media outlet to pick up the story was none other than the epitome of new media, BreakingTweets.com, a news site which reports stories from around the world using Twitter for breaking news. BreakingTweets isn’t run by seasoned news pros, either — its founder and head is Craig Kanalley, a twentysomething journalism grad student trying to revolutionize the way we get our news, through the use of new media.

Breaking Tweets was paying attention to the Delara Darabi story, and they reported it more than a full 24 hours before the mainstream media.

Delara Darabi’s story should be seen as a case study of some of the challenges with our media system as it stands today:

Ethnocentrism still reigns supreme: stories with an “American” angle – like the imprisonment of American journalist Roxana Saberi in Iran – are more important than similar stories, like Delara Darabi’s, without the American angle. With Roxana Saberi, international media attention has been fierce — and because of that, so has international pressure on Iranian authorities. Had Delara Darabi had that kind of attention, she could have had a very different fate. But she didn’t get that attention – because she’s not American.

And new media won major points. Old media types who rail against new media, such as NYT’s Maureen Dowd and Matt Bai, who spent last week complaining about Twitter, should take note: the New York Times was shamefully far, far behind Twitter and new media in picking up this story.

Where are our media’s priorities? What is driving them to choose to write 7000+ of the same stories on Arlen Specter, and almost nothing about the international law-violating execution of an innocent young Iranian woman?

Perhaps it is because human rights stories just don’t sell as much as stories about high-intensity partisan clashes or Hollywood actors. Human rights stories, particuarly world news, may sell less copies or bring in few page views. But news isn’t supposed to be about the profit motive — it’s supposed to be about educating and informing the masses about the world around them. If the press is to act as an arbiter of what is news, they should be reporting on what matters, rather than more banal stories about the White House puppy or Michelle Obama’s garden.

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Quick Hit: The Afghan Rape Law

April 6, 2009

I just want to share briefly how saddened I am by a new Afghanistan law commonly known now as the “Afghan Rape Law.” This law, passed just a few days ago, was called “abhorrent” by President Obama. Basically, it legalizes rape of a woman by her husband. From Think Progress:

“As long as the husband is not traveling, he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night,” Article 132 of the law says. “Unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.”

The law would also force women to get their spouses’ permission before leaving the house, looking for a job, going to the doctor or receiving education.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said the law “legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband. … The law violates women’s rights and human rights in numerous ways.”

The good news is, after substantial international outcry Afghani president Hamid karzai has agreed to “review” the law. However, he still argues the law has been “misinterpreted” by the West. Really? Seems pretty clear to me.

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It’s World Water Day. What are you going to do about it?

March 22, 2009

Sunday, you might have heard, is World Water Day. Probably you haven’t heard about it — and that’s okay, I hadn’t either until recently. Above is a little video clip about World Water Day which I hope you’ll check out.

I know there’s a lot of “World ____ Days”  all year-round for every imaginable cause. And it’s hard to pay attention because really, every good cause is worthy of our attention, but when we’re wrapped up in trying to navigate our own lives, who has time to pay attention to them all?

I want to recognized World Water Day though because I think it is one of the most easily and most often overlooked issues. Partly because it is so simple of a problem that we hardly realize it exists.

Can you imagine your everyday life, though, without the unlimited access to clean drinking water that we all have every day? What would your life be like without that little privilege that we all take for granted?

1.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water.

2.6 billion lack proper sanitation (adequate sewage disposal).

Tainted water supplies are blamed for the worldwide deaths of 1.8 million children a year.  That’s 4,900 children per day under 5 years old.

Access to clean, drinkable water is a basic human right that everyone should have. But the reality is: far too many people don’t.

What can you do?

Check out this petition to call on President Obama to allocate more attention and resources to water issues. Because no child should be without safe water.

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25 Ways to use your blog and social media to create change

March 2, 2009

Last week I wrote about something that has been on my mind lately: Gen Y blogging and whether we are self-absorbed or not.

Do we blog about ourselves a lot? I think we do. We’re all guilty of it at times. And why wouldn’t you? Everyone’s interested in themselves, their lives, their careers. That’s human nature and you would be abnormal if you weren’t.

But no matter what the topic or ‘niche’ of your blog, if you have an audience, you can use your blog to create social change just by spreading the word and doing something. It doesn’t have to be all the time. And it doesn’t matter how big your audience is. Even if you have 1 reader (who may or may not be your mom), that will be one more person who is more educated about an issue and who may take action. 

The simple act of informing people about problems in society can go a long way towards creating action. Change has to start with education and information. And bloggers are in a fantastic place to provide that.

So here is a list of 25 ways I think bloggers can do just that, and create real change. Many thanks to Raven who helped brainstorm a good portion of the ideas on this list.

If you think of more to add, leave a comment. And if you do any of these things, let me know (and maybe link back here :)… I will be thrilled. 

1. Start simple: write a post on an issue you care about. Chances are, most people don’t know much about it. Inform them.

2. Join Bloggers Unite and agree to blog about issues you care about on a certain day with hundreds of other bloggers.

3. Or if you don’t see the issue you care about, create your own and get other bloggers to support it by writing posts too.

4. Videoblog an interview with someone who has been affected by an issue you care about: disease, poverty, war, genocide…

5. Share someone’s story who would never have a chance to be heard otherwise. 

6. Has someone you love been affected by cancer or other disease? Share your story and raise awareness.

7. Highlight nonprofits that are creating change, like this one, the Fresh Air Fund

8. Circulate a petition. Ask your readers to participate. Like this one, sent to me by a CJP reader whose daughter is fighting the disease Spinal Muscular Atrophy: www.petitiontocuresma.com

9. Vlog an event related to social change/human rights issues

10. Twitterfeed posts from groups like Human Rights Watch

11. Write about your experiences with volunteer or nonprofit work.

12. Write your own ideas on how global human rights issues can be alleviated. 

13. Participate in Blog Action Day

14. Invite someone who typically blogs about social change or political issues to write a guest post for your blog. 

15. Discuss how social media plays a role in the non-profit community.

16. Write about advocacy in digestable ways for would-be donors, supporters: Ex. Explaining how donating to Save Darfur will help fund portable stoves for Darfur so young girls and women do not have to leave the camps (thus putting themselves at risk to be attacked while gathering firewood) or the Visual petition at www.congowomen.org

17. Highlight events related to advocacy efforts of charities, advocacy organizations, or other philanthropic groups in your area.

18. Interview or profile someone involved in social justice/human rights efforts

19. Research how a person or group is using interesting or unusual means to educate others on social justice

20. Discuss how social change is being implemented in school curricula and how schools are creating the idea of “global citizenship”

21. Interview a veteran. 

22. Ask your readers to donate to a cause you care about. Even if it’s small — a few dollars still goes a long way.

23. Highlight other bloggers, especially ones who need attention in volatile areas.

24. Participate in an event like Twestival to raise money for charity. Better yet: organize one. 

25. Include a link in your blog to great websites that allow you to make a difference with just a click, like The Hunger Site.
 

I hope this is only a start. What else would you add to the list?

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Strange how a single conversation can change you

February 18, 2009

About two weeks ago I started volunteering at the Intensive English Institute’s Convo Partner program here in Champaign. IEI is filled with international students taking intensive English classes, and the Convo Partners program allows them to be paired up with a buddy or “Convo Partner” who they meet with once a week and converse with in order to practice their English.

So, I meet with my  Convo Partner, who is from Saudi Arabia, every week. Her English isn’t too good, so sometimes we revert to my broken Arabic. Every week for an hour or two, I leave behind my laptop and work and school, shut off my Blackberry, and talk with this girl about her life. And every week,  I come away learning things I never knew I never knew. It’s surreal to be exposed to such a completely different worldview and step outside your own little bubble for a little while.

I think a lot of people, in our oversaturated, information-overloaded culture, don’t recognize the value of every single conversation you have. But to these students, every conversation is special. It’s a chance to practice their English and develop their confidence.

It’s also a chance to make friends with an American — many international students have told me that the American students they try to talk to in their classes are unfriendly and unwilling to talk to them; they’re too wrapped up in their own lives and their own friends. So as a result, they hang out exclusively with other international students who are in the same boat as them.

Hearing that almost angers me. Why are so many of us so brusque and unwilling to talk to people? It takes a lot of courage  to be an international student in America who barely speaks the language — and it takes a lot to put yourself out there and try to learn English and make new friends with people who speak the language far better than you.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my Convo Partner, it’s that a single conversation does matter. And how you treat that conversation matters.

I’ve learned to listen more than I talk.

I’ve learned to pay attention to every detail, and never, ever steal a glance at my phone or anything else.

I’ve learned to be more patient while she finds the right words.

I’ve learned to slow down from my usual breakneck pace and think through my words more.

I’ve learned to be far more understanding of where the other person is coming from.

So I know our generation’s tendency is to multitask and do 15 things at once, and as a result we rarely give our full attention to every conversation that  comes our way. We’ll ignore many conversations simply because we’re too “busy.” But I encourage you to choose to engage that person instead — because you’ll never know how a single conversation can change you.

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