Friday, April 30, 2010

John Wagner Givens: Beijing Hooters Is Nothing to Hoot About

John Wagner Givens: Beijing Hooters Is Nothing to Hoot About

John Wagner Givens

Posted: April 27, 2010 02:30 PM

On April 9th, the LA Times featured an article by Lily Kuo on the Beijing location of the US chain, Hooters, claiming that it offered "a snapshot of changing attitudes toward sex in China". The article, a concise example of much of what is wrong with journalism about China, is misleading touristic journalism that lags woefully behind the times and is hopelessly biased towards Beijing, Shanghai and the Pearl River Delta. The presence of Hooters is a product of the increasing prevalence of expatriates in Beijing and is largely unrelated to changing Chinese mores. The restaurant is located in foreigner ground zero, and even Ms. Kuo admits that the "clientele is largely clean-cut, corporate expatriate types". She goes on to mention the sign by the bathroom, "Caution. Blonds thinking." which simply shows that right down to the kitsch on the walls the restaurant is an import for the consumption of expatriates; China has a dearth of both blondes and stereotypes about their mental faculties. "Of course I know what hooters means" says a Chinese Hooter's Girl at the end of the article, but Kuo neglects to point out that the restaurant does not take risque risks with its Chinese name, which translates as "American Owl Restaurant."
This kind of distortion is often present in the foreign media about China. Facts are adjusted or ignored in order to tell a simple story that fits neatly with readers' pre-conceived notions and fears about China, preferably casting China as a threat or, contradictorily, predicting its imminent collapse. A good example is recent coverage on China's exchange rate which consistently insists that China's fixed-rate policy hurts American business while overlooking the way in which the policy substantially benefits American consumers with artificially cheap goods and the fact that emerging economies are the policy's primary victims. Another example comes from recent articlesclaiming that Chinese authorities banned Bob Dylan from performing in China. It turns out that this was almost entirely unsubstantiated, but it fit so well with stories like "Bjork's Tibet Outburst Provokes Censors" and "China bans Oasis" that no one bothered to actually ask Dylan's staff if the performance had indeed been banned.
According to Ms. Kuo, Hooters offers "a snapshot of changing attitudes toward sex in China". Even if this were true, it is pretty outdated for a snapshot. Hooters opened its first location in China in2004, and its Beijing location opened in 2007 (not 2008 as the article asserts). But this, too, is typical of coverage in China. Academics are hardly known for their sense of immediacy. From conception to publication, academic articles often take years, but when it comes to China today'snews is often last years' academic article. This blogger is no fan of the 24 hour news cycle, but coverage that lags years behind is problematic in such a rapidly developing country.

The Hooters' article is also a classic example of Friedmanesque touristic journalism--that is, drawing conclusions about a country based on what one observes on the streets of upscale neighborhoods in its most developed cities. Chinese mores may in fact be liberalizing, but drawing that conclusion simply from the presence of a single Hooters in Beijing is like looking across the street from Hooters to China's only Apple Store and assuming that Mac is becoming a major presence in China. In fact Mac's market share in China is "negligible", and a 2003 survey found only 14% of Chinese University students to be sexually active, compared to 77.6% in the US.
Much of the problem arises from the substantial difficulties that media faces in China. Most conspicuous and probably most damaging are the restrictions and harassment that the Chinese state levels at journalists. Recently, there have been numerous (though possibly exaggerated)reports of the e-mail accounts of foreign journalists being hacked. Additionally, Chinese is a difficult language to learn and many journalists work with translators (sometimes euphemistically referred to as assistants). Furthermore, mastery of standard Mandarin Chinese is by no means universal among Chinese and more than one layer of translation is sometimes needed to converse in one of China's hundreds of dialects or languages (think of this scene from the movie Hot Fuzzplus one extra layer of translation). The need for translation limits journalists' options and removes them from their subjects. Finally, China is both huge and changing so quickly that it is difficult for even the most intrepid reporter to keep current.
But these problems are not insurmountable. With some notable exceptions, foreign journalists in China tend to be relatively young and inexperienced reporters with a smattering of Chinese under their belt who will only stay in China for a few years. The situation could be greatly improved if China acquired a cadre of experienced Chinese-speaking correspondents willing to make China their long-term home. If Beijing is truly going to become a hub of power equal to Washington DC, then it needs an equal to the White House Press Corps.
Many of my criticisms could be leveled at journalism anywhere, but in China the problem is probably worse because Westerners tend to understand so little about China. As journalism continues to reinforce pre-conceived notions and fears about China, it becomes ever harder to publish thoughtful and innovative pieces and break the vicious cycle of oversimplified stereotyped ignorance. I do not raise the faults of the Hooters article in order to denigrate Ms. Kuo or the LA Times, but to appeal for a level of coverage that corresponds with China's increasing prominence.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The unfair trial of Syed Fahad Hashmi. - By Jeanne Theoharis - Slate Magazine

The unfair trial of Syed Fahad Hashmi. - By Jeanne Theoharis - Slate Magazine

The Legal Black Hole in Lower ManhattanThe unfairness of the trial of Muslim activist Syed Fahad Hashmi.

The Metropolitan Correctional Center.On Wednesday, an American citizen goes to trial, without the right to review all the evidence in his case and after three years of isolation. This is happening not in Guantanamo or even a military brig but in the Southern District of New York. Syed Fahad Hashmi, held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan, is charged with two counts of providing and conspiring to provide material support to al-Qaida and two counts of making and conspiring to make a contribution of goods or services to al-Qaida. If convicted, he faces 70 years in prison. His case represents the vast, baffling scope of this sort of criminal charge and the abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism right here at home.
With all the attention that has gone to Guantanamo, much of the outcry over inhumane treatment and torture, the use of secret evidence, and denial of habeas rights has cast these as problems occurring largely outside U.S. shores and courts. Yet the conditions of Hashmi's pre-trial confinement are not more humane than those inflicted on many Guantanamo detainees. Nor has his right to a fair trial in New York been significantly more protected than those of foreign nationals facing U.S. military tribunals. And the transition from the Bush administration to the Obama administration has ameliorated none of this.
Hashmi is a 30-year-old U.S. citizen who was born in Pakistan; grew up in Flushing, Queens, where his family still lives; and received his B.A. from Brooklyn College and his master's from London Metropolitan University. At Brooklyn College, in 2002, Hashmi was a student of mine in a seminar on civil rights. A critic of U.S. foreign policy and its treatment of Muslims, he held the rather optimistic view that you could change people's minds by talking and arguing with them. He could often be found in the hall before and after class debating other students. For my seminar, he wrote a research paper on the abridgement of the civil liberties of Muslim-American groups in the United States after 9/11. Now it is his rights that have been violated.
Since arresting him in 2006, the government has sought to prosecute Hashmi for providing material support to al-Qaida without accusing him of being a member of al-Qaida, of trying to help al-Qaida commit any act of terrorism or other crime, or of even having any direct contact with the group. Instead, the government's charges against Hashmi are based on the testimony of a cooperating witness named Junaid Babar, an acquaintance from Queens who stayed in his student apartment in London in 2004 for two weeks. The government claims that while Babar was in Hashmi's apartment, he had luggage containing raincoats, ponchos, and waterproof socks (what the government terms "military gear") and that later Babar delivered these materials to the third-ranking member of al-Qaida in South Waziristan, Pakistan. In addition, Babar borrowed Hashmi's cell phone and then allegedly used it to call other conspirators in terrorist plots. Babar was himself subsequently arrested on material support charges and has agreed to testify in a number of cases in exchange for a much-reduced sentence.
Material-support laws are the black box of domestic terrorism prosecutions, into which all sorts of constitutionally protected activities can be thrown and classified as suspect. The law defines material support as the knowing provision of "any service, training, [or] expert advice or assistance" to a group designated by the federal government as a foreign terrorist organization. The prosecution need not show an actual criminal act, just the knowing "support" to a group designated a terrorist organization. It's a prosecutor's dream: You don't need to show evidence of a plot or even a desire to help terrorists to win a conviction—a low bar the standards of traditional criminal prosecution would not allow.
Both the Bush and Obama administrations have relied on the statute's vague nature—what the Bush Department of Justice described as "strategic overinclusiveness"—to criminalize a wide range of activities. Operating by the logic of preventive prosecution, material-support charges often target small acts and religious and political associations, which take on sinister meaning as ostensible manifestations of forthcoming terrorism.

These laws have created a climate in which certain political and religious beliefs are deemed questionable and dangerous. In its prosecution of Hashmi, the government will likely focus on political statements Hashmi made about American foreign policy and the treatment of Muslims here and abroad. Hashmi drew the attention of Time and CNN in May 2002 as a student activist and potential homegrown threat; he was quoted at a 2002 Brooklyn College meeting as calling America "the biggest terrorist in the world." He was also a member of the New York political group Al Muhajiroun. The government has not designated Al Muhajiroun a terrorist organization nor deemed membership in the organization illegalyet Hashmi's First Amendment protected speech and association with the group is being used against him.
Hashmi's pre-trial detention—nearly three years of solitary confinement—has been served in severe isolation under Special Administrative Measures imposed by the Bush administration and then renewed by the Obama administration. The federal government created SAMS in 1996, at first to target gang leaders and mafia bosses in cases where"there is a substantial risk that an inmate's communication or contacts with persons could result in death or serious bodily injury to persons." After 9/11, the DoJ relaxed the standard for imposing a SAM and expanded their use. In Hashmi's case, the government cited his "proclivity for violence" as the reason for these harsh measures—even though he has no criminal record and is not being charged with committing an act of violence.
The result is that Hashmi is allowed contact only with his lawyers and his immediate family—one visit by one family member every other week for one and a half hours. His cell is electronically monitored 24 hours a day, so he showers and relieves himself in view of the camera. He cannot receive or send mail except with his immediate family. He cannot talk to other prisoners through the walls or take part in group prayer. He is allowed one hour of exercise a day, in a solitary cage without fresh air. These conditions have degraded his health—in pre-trial hearings, he appears increasingly withdrawn and less focused—and have interfered with his ability to participate in his own defense.
Much of the evidence against Hashmi is classified under the Classified Information Procedures Act (originally enacted in 1981 to prevent U.S. intelligence officers under prosecution from threatening to reveal state secrets to manipulate the legal proceedings). His lawyers, who had to receive CIA-level security clearances, are able to review the evidence but may not discuss it with Hashmi or any un-cleared experts. This, too, blocks Hashmi from assisting with his defense.
Hashmi's case has attracted growing attention. More than 550 academics and writers signed a Statement of Concern about "the conditions of his detention, constraints on his right to a fair trial, and the potential threat his case poses to the First Amendment rights of others." Broadway actors, civil libertarians, Muslims, clergy, law students, anti-war activists, and Hashmi's own family have held weekly vigils outside MCC, where Hashmi is being held.
Many of these concerned New Yorkers planned to attend the trial. In response, the government filed a motion citing the public interest in the case as potentially dangerous. They asked for an "anonymous jury" with extra security. On Monday, Judge Loretta Preska granted this request. The U.S. attorney disparagingly wrote that "jurors will see in the gallery of the courtroom a significant number of the defendant's supporters, naturally leading to juror speculation that at least some of these spectators might share the defendant's violent radical Islamic leanings."
Promoting guilt by implication, this move by the prosecution signals to the jury that Hashmi is dangerous even before he steps into the courtroom and encourages jurors to view observers in court as suspicious as well. Compromised due process requires further secrecy. The politics of fear requires more fear. And so tomorow, Syed Fahad Hashmi goes to trial in a legal black hole right here in New York City.

BBC News - Sierra Leone starts free care for mothers and children

BBC News - Sierra Leone starts free care for mothers and children

Sierra Leone starts free care 

for mothers and children

Sierra Leone has launched a free healthcare plan for 
pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers and 
children under five years old.
The country has some of the world's highest maternal
and child death rates.
Doctors blame this partly on health service fees and the
cost of medication, and hope the healthcare plan will
help save lives.
But there is concern that Sierra Leone lacks the resources
and infrastructure to support the new programme.
Sierra Leone is one of the world's poorest countries.
It emerged from a decade of civil war in 2002, but
reconstruction is still proving to be a big struggle.
Life expectancy: 46 (men),
49 (women)
One in eight women risk dying
in pregnancy or childbirth
For every 1,000 children born,
140 die
Highest mortality rate in the
world for children under five
Sources: UN, Amnesty International
Ratiszai Ndlovo, Sierra Leone's UN Population Fund
representative, told the BBC's Umaru Fofana that
although medical equipment had been ordered and
some drugs distributed around the country, everything
was still not in place for the launch of the healthcare plan.
"It's not perfect, it's not 100%," she said.
"But I think we cannot start the programme with
everything in a perfect condition."
Free healthcare in Sierra Leone is expected to save
the lives of more than one million mothers and children,
at an initial cost of $19m (£12m).
Other countries in Africa, such as Burundi, have also
introduced free care to new mothers and children under
five in recent years.
In Sierra Leone, the programme's main donors have been
the UN and the UK, who between them have helped
refurbish hospitals, supply drugs and pay health workers'
Pay and conditions were the main grievances in a
two-week-long strike in March staged by the country's public
health workers.
They feared free care would result in more patients and
longer working hours.
The dispute was settled when the government offered
salary increases of between 200% and 500%.
Our correspondent says there are other challenges facing the
healthcare programme.
For example, Sierra Leone's bad roads and the lack of
ambulances means pregnant women living in the more
isolated parts of the country are often slow to receive
And some question how the free healthcare will be paid for
once the donor support runs out.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

BBC NEWS | Africa | DR Congo outsources its military

BBC NEWS | Africa | DR Congo outsources its military: "The Democratic Republic of Congo - a country with the trappings of sovereignty but not much modern government or control outside the main cities - is waking up to its limitations.

DR Congo has invited in foreign armies to help deal with its lawless regions. It is a joint military operation that is highly unusual in Africa.
The militaries of three foreign countries - Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan - are now operating in or around the edges of DR Congo.
But unlike in previous times, the foreign armies have not invaded against the will of the authorities in the capital Kinshasa.
They were invited in by the Congolese government to deal with rebel movements that Kinshasa admits it - and the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world, in DR Congo - cannot handle.
To be accurate, the word "invited" is not quite right.
Map of rebel groups and neighboring nation's military operations in Democratic Republic of the Congo
Kinshasa was persuaded by United States pressure to accept the foreigners.
The US is allied to Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan - all of which, in various ways, are opposed to the US bogeyman in the region, the Islamist regime based in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. (South Sudan is de facto quasi-independent from Khartoum after winning control of the south after a long war.)
The activities of the three African armies in DR Congo can be painted as "African solutions to African problems". The continent is tired of the UN failing to fix DR Congo.
But of course these are also self-interested actions. The foreign armies are dealing with their enemies who have been sucked into the virtual power vacuum in parts of DR Congo - and which therefore threaten stability.
The key visiting teams are:
The Rwandan army went into Congo's North and South Kivu Provinces a few months ago to deal with Rwandan ethnic Hutu rebels, the FDLR, who were chased into Congo after perpetrating the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
Congolese soldier with the flag
The Congolese army flies the flag but cannot protect the population
(In fact, some of them were certainly involved in the genocide - while a majority of the current fighters are probably new opportunists plundering Congo's gold and other minerals.)
The FDLR used to be wartime allies of the Congolese government during the long conflict of the 1990s. That war was so widespread and sucked in so many countries it was dubbed "Africa's First World War".
But Kinshasa has now let the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan army in to deal with the Hutus - despite that army having invaded DR Congo twice in recent years.
The quid pro quo for Kinshasa's volte face is that Rwanda should arrest Congolese Tutsi rebel Laurent Nkunda (long considered by many to be a Rwandan puppet) and then "turn" his CNDP militia into Congolese army allies.
Rwanda arrested Gen Nkunda and is now twisting arms to make his former fighters less hostile to Kinshasa (but of course not hostile to Rwanda either).
The arrest was the easy part.
The Ugandan army went into the north-eastern DR Congo (Orientale Province) to smash the rebel Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army.
The LRA is an armed group whose leader Joseph Kony also claims mystical powers. He was chased out of Uganda and has taken refuge in DR Congo and South Sudan.
Local self-defence forces have been raised to protect villages from marauding rebels
Rebel attacks on civilians prompted villagers to raise self-defence forces
The LRA has been causing widespread terror among Congolese and Sudanese civilians. It exercises control through mass murder, rape and abductions - but it says its basic motivation is the defence of the marginalised northern Ugandan ethnic Acholi population.
The United States is widely believed to have helped plan and pay for the Ugandan anti-LRA operation in DR Congo. The LRA is on US proscribed terrorist lists.
An early part of the anti-LRA operation, planned for December 14 2008, was to to bomb the main LRA base in north-eastern DR Congo.
The plan failed to have its full effect, Ugandan officers say privately. Bad weather closed in that day, the officers say, when, it was believed, Joseph Kony and his senior aides were at the base.
One version says cloud cover and a botched air transport plan meant noisy helicopters were used for the bombing runs, not high-flying Migs which could have had the element of surprise.
Joseph Kony may have heard the choppers coming. Anyway, he seems to have got away from the base just a few minutes before the bombs dropped.
The South Sudanese army (the victorious ex-rebels, not the Khartoum government) is also trying to deal with the LRA.
The LRA, despite claiming to want to rule Uganda by the Christian Ten Commandments, was nurtured by the Islamist regime in Khartoum to try to stop the southern Sudanese rebels (Sudan People's Liberation Army - SPLA) from winning the on-off 50 year north-south war.
But those southern Sudanese rebels did win against Khartoum. After they had done so they tried negotiating with the LRA for a while to make it go away.
The deal was that Mr Kony would be shielded from the indictment against him issued by the International Criminal Court in exchange for peace.
Mr Kony opted to stay in the bush. And now the South Sudanese have mostly given up talking and are going for a military solution against him.
The results so far
The Rwandans have pushed the Hutu rebels westward, deeper into the Congolese forests, and have also arrested a few middle-ranking rebels. They have persuaded some Hutu camp followers to go home to Rwanda.
Rwanda will be quite pleased with this so far. The Congolese are not so keen; the Hutus can still live off Congo - mining illegally, mounting roadblocks for taxes etc. But Kinshasa will at least be satisfied that Mr Nkunda has been neutralised, for now.
Congolese gold miners
DR Congo's rich gold reserves has attracted foreign armies in the past
The Ugandans, meanwhile, are continuing their 20-year hunt for Mr Kony, this time inside DR Congo's north-eastern Orientale Province.
The Congolese army is supposed to hold the southern parts of Orientale and the Sudanese are supposed to block the possible escape of Mr Kony's men through their border to the north.
The Ugandan army and air force do their business in between the two.
No great results here so far. In fact, some negative ones. Hundreds of Congolese were massacred by the LRA over the Christmas period in reprisal for the hunt against the rebels.
But even the UN humanitarian supremo John Holmes, decrying the massacres as a "catastrophic" result of the offensive, said the military operations have to be pressed home.
In the long run this sort of inter-African cooperation will certainly be necessary to counter cross border rebels.
The governments of Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan and DR Congo all have some legitimacy (and are all backed by, for example, the US and the UK).
Both of the rebel groups concerned are reviled by most of the governments in the region and most of the rest of the world.
For this reason, any talk of all these operations being "over by the end of February" - as Kinshasa has said publically - should be taken with a large pinch of salt.
Everyone in the region knows that DR Congo can't cope with these lawless regions. Much of the Congolese army is dysfunctional.
Everyone also knows that, for all the decent things it may have done in DR Congo, the UN has failed to pacify the eastern part of the country.
Kinshasa has to say it wants the operations over because it is politically embarrassing for President Joseph Kabila to be seen to allow countries which once invaded DR Congo to stomp all over eastern regions.
But President Kabila is politically weak. Rwanda and Uganda, by contrast, are relatively are strong.
The fighting will continue. There may be some positive results in the long-term. Or it could all go horribly wrong.
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