Issues and Analysis

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ON THE MEDIA: Global unhappiness with the news media is high. In the U.S. (surprise!) partisanship drives what people think about the media

In the U.S., supporting the party in power correlates with thinking the media does a terrible job. The opposite is true in nearly every other country surveyed.

 

The reporting readers say they want from news organizations and what they feel they get from news organizations continue to be mismatched.

People across 38 different countries largely say they want a news media that covers political issues in a way that doesn’t favor one political party or another, according to a global study by Pew Research published Thursday. But in many of these countries Pew studied, partisan divides over whether news organizations cover politics fairly rule attitudes toward the media.

Among the four issues tested, evaluations are most negative when it comes to whether news organizations are doing a good job at reporting different positions on political issues fairly. Globally, a median of only about half (52%) think their news media are performing well in this domain.

Regionally, medians of less than half approve in the Middle East (46%), Europe (45%) and Latin America (42%). Still, majorities in sub-Saharan Africa (69%) and the Asia-Pacific (65%) praise their media’s performance…

An individual’s political orientation tends to be one of the strongest factors underlying attitudes about the news media, more so than age, education or gender.

In the U.S., 52 percent said they thought news organizations don’t do well reporting political issues fairly. The U.S. didn’t have the highest levels of dissatisfaction among the countries Pew surveyed, though: In Greece that number is 80 percent; in South Korea, 72 percent. These two countries consistently ranked highest in media dissatisfaction: Greece and South Korea were the only two in Pew’s report in which the majority of people didn’t even think news organizations were doing a good job covering important news events (Greece 57 percent; South Korea 55 percent).

But when it comes to partisanship, the U.S. takes the cake. In only the U.S and Israel are people who support the governing party more likely to be unhappy with the media:

The gap is largest in the U.S., where 24% of Republicans are mostly satisfied news consumers, compared with 58% of people who do not identify with the Republican Party, a 34-point difference.

The opposite is largely true for the other countries Pew studied. In Hungary, for instance,supporters of the ruling Christian Democratic People’s Party are 20 percentage points more likely to be satisfied with news coverage than non-supporters.

Among the people surveyed by Pew, those who said they felt it was “never acceptable” for news media to favor a specific political party were more likely to say media in their countries weren’t reporting on politics fairly, compared to those who said they felt it was “sometimes acceptable” for news organizations to favor one political party. Again, the U.S. has the largest gap between those two groups (57 percent of those who are most rigid about whether news media should be allowed to favor one party over another are unhappy with how the media is doing, compared to 31 percent of those who think it’s sometimes acceptable for media to favor a party):

This yawning partisan divide aligns with another Pew report from last summer, which found that 89 percent of Democrats said journalists’ role keeping an eye on public officials was critical, but just 42 percent of Republicans felt the same. It was the largest partisan gap since Pew began asking the question in 1985.

In addition to all this partisanship and unease, Thursday’s Pew report also found a few other notable news media consumption trends worldwide:

— People are more interested in national and local news than news not about their own country. And it turns out people outside of the United States aren’t actually that interested in news about the United States.

— Rates of using social media to get news are unrelated to a country’s national economic status. People in emerging, developing economies are as likely to use social media for news as those in advanced ones: “In fact, the median percentages of people who get news at least once a day through social media are about the same in emerging and developing economies as in advanced ones (33% and 36%, respectively).

Pew conducted its survey with 41,953 respondents across 38 countries from February to May of 2017. You can read their full report here.

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ON THE MEDIA: Letting Black Women Tell Their Own Stories

By Monique Judge for NeimanLab

“In 2018, journalism will need to do a better job of seeking out the voices of black women. It will not be enough to give black women credit for the things that they do; it will be crucial to allow their stories to be told through their own voices.”

Many movements in 2017 were either started or shaped by black women. From #MeToo to the recent special election for the Alabama Senate seat, black women showed up and showed out. But too often their voices were drowned out by those with more visibility and left unheard by those who were able to silence them.

Monique Judge

In 2018, journalism will need to do a better job of seeking out the voices of black women. It will not be enough to give black women credit for the things that they do; it will be crucial to allow their stories to be told through their own voices.

Representation of black women in journalism will matter. The days of a white women or a non-black women of color reporting on things such as the natural hair movement or other things indelibly tied to the black experience are over.

You can’t speak on why Auntie Maxine is important if you have never had or been an Auntie Maxine. You can’t talk about why hair politics is still issue or why the rise of Fenty Beauty is so important or why Black Panther and the new live-action Lion King movie with Beyoncé as Simba matters if you don’t have the lived experience to understand the nuances of undertones and representation.

At the end of John Singleton’s 1991 movie Boyz n the Hood, Ice Cube utters what has been one of the most quotable lines in the film: “Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care what’s going on in the hood.”

In 2017, the same could be said about the stories and identities of black women in journalism. Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s happening to black women in America and across the globe.

2018 is the year that this can, will, and must change.

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HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: In 1825, Haiti Gained Independence From France For $21 Billion — It’s Time For France To Pay It Back

By Dan Sperling, December 6, 2017, for Forbes

The devastation wreaked on Haiti by Hurricane Matthew last fall was just the latest in a seemingly endless string of misfortunes that have befallen that country, which in March concluded a year-long interlude of caretaker governance by installing banana exporter Jovenel Moïse as its 58th president. Moïse faces a daunting task; Haiti’s chronic status as the Western hemisphere’s poorest nation is due to a litany of afflictions that range from widespread illiteracy, to endemic corruption, to woefully inadequate infrastructure. But while these would be hard enough for any country to overcome, for more than a century of its existence Haiti carried an additional but little-known millstone, the effects of which are still being felt.

In 1825, barely two decades after winning its independence against all odds, Haiti was forced to begin paying enormous “reparations” to the French slaveholders it had overthrown. Those payments would have been a staggering burden for any fledgling nation, but Haiti wasn’t just any fledgling nation; it was a republic formed and led by blacks who’d risen up against the institution of slavery. As such, Haiti’s independence was viewed as a threat by all slave-owning countries – the United States included – and its very existence rankled racist sensibilities globally. Thus Haiti – tiny, impoverished and all alone in a hostile world – had little choice but to accede to France’s reparation demands, which were delivered to Port-au-Prince by a fleet of heavily armed warships in 1825.

By complying with an ultimatum that amounted to extortion, Haiti gained immunity from French military invasion, relief from political and economic isolation – and a crippling debt that took 122 years to pay off. My father-in-law still recalls the patriotic song he was taught as a Haitian schoolboy, its poignant lyrics urging all Haitians to reach into their own pockets to help their government raise the amount that was still “owed” to France. Thanks to voluntary contributions from Haiti’s citizens, most of whom were desperately poor, that debt was finally settled in 1947. But decades of making regular payments had rendered the Haitian government chronically insolvent, helping to create a pervasive climate of instability from which the country still hasn’t recovered.

France’s demand for reparations from Haiti seems comically outrageous today – equivalent to a kidnapper suing his escaped hostage for the cost of fixing a window that had been broken during the escape. And though the present French government can’t be blamed for the gall of King Charles X (France’s ruler in 1825), a modicum of historical accountability sure would be nice. While France still ranks among the world’s wealthiest nations, Haiti – with a per-capita annual income of $350, a power grid that fails on a regular basis and a network of roads that’s more than 50-percent unpaved – is plagued by drought, food shortages and a struggling economy. For the “crime” of shaking off the yoke of involuntary servitude, Haiti dutifully paid France reparations over the course of nearly six generations – with interest. France should now do the right thing and return those payments, estimated to total $21 billion in today’s dollars. What would be a relative pittance in the French national budget is desperately needed by Haiti and could help it begin a broad-based recovery that would seem like manna from heaven to its long-suffering people.

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AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: Private War: Erik Prince Has His Eye On Afghanistan’s Rare Metals

By Aram Roston, December 7, 2017, for BuzzFeed News

Erik Prince. Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Controversial private security tycoon Erik Prince has famously pitched an audacious plan to the Trump administration: Hire him to privatize the war in Afghanistan using squads of “security contractors.” Now, for the first time, Buzzfeed News is publishing that pitch, a presentation that lays out how Prince wanted to take over the war from the US military — and how he envisioned mining some of the most war-torn provinces in Afghanistan to help fund security operations and obtain strategic mineral resources for the US.

Prince, who founded the Blackwater security firm and testified last week to the House Intelligence Committee for its Russia investigation, has deep connections into the current White House: He’s friends with former presidential adviser Stephen Bannon, and he’s the brother of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.

Prince briefed top Trump administration officials directly, talked up his plan publicly on the DC circuit, and published op-eds about it. He patterned the strategy he’s pitching on the historical model of the old British East India Company, which had its own army and colonized much of Britain’s empire in India. “An East India Company approach,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “would use cheaper private solutions to fill the gaps that plague the Afghan security forces, including reliable logistics and aviation support.”

But the details have never been made public. Here is the never-before-published slide presentation for his pitch, which a source familiar with the matter said was prepared for the Trump administration.

One surprising element is the commercial promise Prince envisions: that the US will get access to Afghanistan’s rich deposits of minerals such as lithium, used in batteries; uranium; magnesite; and “rare earth elements,” critical metals used in high technology from defense to electronics. One slide estimates the value of mineral deposits in Helmand province alone at $1 trillion.

From “An Exit Strategy for Afghanistan”

The presentation makes it plain that Prince intends to fund the effort through these rich deposits. His plan, one slide says, is “a strategic mineral resource extraction funded effort that breaks the negative security economic cycle.” The slides also say that mining could provide jobs to Afghans.

“What is laid out in the slides is a model of an affordable way for the US to stabilize a failed state where we are presently wasting American youth and tens of billions of dollars annually,” a Prince spokesperson emailed BuzzFeed News Thursday.

Defense Secretary James Mattis “did meet with Mr. Prince earlier this year,” a Defense Department spokesperson said. “He meets with people all the time to listen and hear new ideas.” The CIA declined to comment. It’s been widely reported that the Pentagon pushed back against Prince’s concept, and that national security adviser H.R. McMaster was opposed to it as well.

Prince currently runs a Chinese security and logistics company, as BuzzFeed News has previously reported. Still, in his pitch to America’s policymakers, he plays the US against China. One slide, devoted to “market manipulation in rare earth elements,” presents China as dominating the market for the valuable minerals.

Ironically, the statement from Prince’s spokesman that said Prince’s Chinese company, Frontier Services Group, would participate in the Afghanistan plan, and “would provide logistics support to the extractive firms with secure transportation and camp support.”

Many experts on Afghanistan mock Prince’s concept of privatizing the war there. His supporters say that since the military has so far failed in Afghanistan, his approach deserves a try. One source who was briefed by Prince says, “His heart’s in the right place. The problem is that his head is up his ass.”

On Tuesday, BuzzFeed News caught up with Prince in Leesburg, Virginia. He declined to talk, saying, “You’re a fucking hack.”

 

Erik Prince’s presentation for privatizing the war in Afghanistan:

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AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: U.S. airstrikes rise sharply in Afghanistan — and so do civilian deaths

, December 4, 2017, for The LA Times

Zafar Khan lost six family members in a bombing in Afghanistan. The U.S. military said that its Aug. 10 strike in Nangarhar province targeted militants who “were observed loading weapons into a vehicle” and that “there was zero chance of civilian casualties.” (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

As U.S. warplanes flew above a cluster of villages where Islamic State militants were holed up in eastern Afghanistan, 11 people piled into a truck and drove off along an empty dirt track to escape what they feared was imminent bombing.

They did not get far.

An explosion blasted the white Suzuki truck off the road, opening a large crater in the earth and flipping the vehicle on its side in a ditch. A teenage girl survived. The 10 dead included three children, one an infant in his mother’s arms.

The lone survivor of the Aug. 10 blast in Nangarhar province, and Afghan officials who visited the site, said the truck was hit by an American airstrike shortly before 5 p.m. Relatives expressed horror that U.S. ground forces and surveillance aircraft could have mistaken the passengers, who included women and children riding in the open truck bed — in daylight with no buildings or other vehicles around — for Islamic State fighters.

“How could they not see there were women and children in the truck?” said Zafar Khan, 23, who lost six family members, including his mother and three siblings, in the blast.

In a statement after the incident, the U.S. military acknowledged carrying out a strike but said it killed militants who “were observed loading weapons into a vehicle” and “there was zero chance of civilian casualties.”

Pockets of Nangarhar remain inaccessible to outsiders because of fighting, making it impossible to independently determine the cause of the fatal explosion. What is not in question is that in the 17th year of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, American airstrikes are escalating again, along with civilian casualties.

Operating under looser restrictions on air power that commanders hope will break a stalemate in the war, U.S. fighter planes this year dropped 3,554 explosives in Afghanistan through Oct. 31, the most since 2012.

American officials say the firepower has curtailed the growth of Islamic State’s South Asia affiliate — known as ISIS-Khorasan, which they believe numbers about 900 fighters, most of them in Nangarhar — and enabled struggling government forces to regain ground against Taliban insurgents in other provinces, such as Helmand, where a Marine-led task force has helped coordinate a months-long offensive.

But innocent Afghans are asking: At what cost?

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan documented 205 civilian deaths and 261 injuries from airstrikes in the first nine months this year, a 52% increase in casualties compared with the same period in 2016. Although both U.S. and Afghan forces conduct aerial attacks, preliminary data indicate that American strikes have been more lethal for civilians.

In the first six months of 2017, the U.N. said, 54 civilians died in international air operations, compared with 29 in Afghan strikes. Twelve additional deaths could not be attributed to either force, the U.N. found.

In the case of the blast in Nangarhar province in August, U.S. officials have continued to assert that the American airstrike that day struck only militants. But they have since offered an alternative explanation for the civilian deaths. Responding to questions from The Times, coalition officials said that a passenger vehicle — presumably the Suzuki truck — hit a roadside bomb planted by Islamic State militants slightly more than a mile from where the airstrike killed the militants. It was the roadside bomb that resulted “in multiple enemy-caused civilian casualties,” said Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, a spokesman for coalition forces in Kabul.

Afghans vigorously dispute that account. The district police chief, Hamidullah Sadaqat, said there was only one deadly explosion in the area that afternoon. Rozina, the 17-year-old survivor, said her memory was clear.

“The plane dropped the bomb on us,” said Rozina, who, like many Afghans, has only one name.

“How could they not see there were women and children in the truck?”

                                                            -Zafar Khan, who lost six family members in the Aug. 10 bombing

Zafar Khan fled Loi Papin to a rented house on the outskirts of Jalalabad. “Everyone was trying to get away,” Khan said. “We had recently sold our sheep and half the land. It was too dangerous to be in the village.” Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times

The bombing occurred in Haska Mina district, about three hours by road south of the provincial capital, Jalalabad. The victims were residents of Loi Papin, a village near the front line between government-controlled territory and the Islamic State-held village of Gorgoray.

Many left Loi Papin more than two years ago after militants arrived claiming allegiance to Islamic State. The extremists tortured locals and barked orders from mosque loudspeakers, demanding that families surrender adult sons to their ranks.

Khan, a slender laborer with close-set eyes, fled to a rented house on the outskirts of Jalalabad. Other family members made brief trips to Loi Papin to tend to their farm and flock of sheep, he said.

On the afternoon of Aug. 10, Khan’s mother, Malaika, left the village with three of her 10 children — 12-year-old Bahadur Shah, 8-year-old Anisa and 1-year-old Mohammad — in the Suzuki truck, driven by his cousin. His uncle was on board as well as five others, including Rozina, her father and brother, who were returning to a house they had rented in the district center, still under government control.

“Everyone was trying to get away,” Khan said. “We had recently sold our sheep and half the land. It was too dangerous to be in the village. No one wants to be anywhere close to Daesh” — a colloquial term for Islamic State.

Rozina said everyone in the truck was “afraid of the Americans.”

“Because we knew they were in the area,” she said, “we expected that they would bombard by the next day.”

As they drove off, she recalled seeing two planes in the sky. Then the blast struck, knocking her unconscious for several minutes. When she awoke, she found that seven people were dead, including her father and brother.

Malaika and two of her children were badly wounded and yelling for help, Rozina said. But American troops in the area — probably U.S. special operations forces conducting joint operations with Afghan commandos against Islamic State — did not allow anyone to come to their aid for hours, she said.

“They died because there was no one to help them,” Rozina said. “They were stuck and screaming.”

From left, Lal Mohammad, 17, Roqia Khan, 10, Basina Khan, 9, Nasir Mohammad, 13, and Rishma Khan, 8, lost their father in the August bombing. U.S. officials say the deadly blast was caused by a roadside bomb, not an airstrike. Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times

Khan and several others set off from Jalalabad after the bombing, reaching Haska Mina in the middle of the night. They found the crumpled truck overturned in a field. Rozina was lying at a woman’s house with severe injuries to her face, hands and legs. Villagers had carted the bodies away in wheelbarrows and brought them to a nearby mosque.

“I found a piece of a leg and a thumb next to the truck,” said Mohammad Agha, 42, whose cousin, a peanut farmer also named Khan, was among the dead.

Sadaqat, the district police chief, took Agha and other family members to a former Afghan Border Police base being used by U.S. special operations troops. Speaking through an Afghan interpreter, the Americans gave the relatives until noon to bury the bodies. They worked quickly, Agha said; Islamic custom requires bodies to be interred within 24 hours, wrapped in simple shrouds.

“We didn’t have enough fabric to cover them all properly,” he said. “We had to use shawls.”

An Islamic State broadcast shows Mohammad Agha, second from left, conducting a burial for the victims. Khurasan Media

When they were done, Agha and others went to inform the Americans, who dismissed the possibility that a U.S. plane had launched the strike.

“They said maybe it was a mortar fired by Daesh, but a mortar wouldn’t have created a 10-foot crater,” Agha said. “The Americans asked us: ‘Which country’s plane did this?’ It seemed like they weren’t taking us seriously so we left.”


When there were 100,000 American troops in the country, then-President Hamid Karzai frequently accused them of excessive force and wielded reports of dead innocents as a cudgel against the United States. Karzai’s bombast had an effect: Far fewer civilians died in airstrikes in 2012 and 2013, according to U.N. reports, when the U.S. averaged hundreds of airstrikes a month.

Experts said North Atlantic Treaty Organization coalition commanders took serious measures to reduce the risk of harm to civilians. They met regularly with the U.N. and nongovernmental agencies and dedicated a team of officers to investigate complaints.

As the foreign troop presence shrank and NATO shifted its focus to training Afghan forces, coalition officials released less information about operations. They also face less resistance from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, a stronger proponent of U.S. military action.

“The U.S. military is becoming less transparent, and it’s a pity because they had worked really hard — and succeeded — in reducing civilian casualties,” said Kate Clark, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a Kabul-based research organization.

Dusk falls along the Kabul-Jalalabad highway in Afghanistan. Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times

The use of air power has surged since mid-2016, when the Obama administration approved new rules of engagement that allowed U.S. warplanes to open fire in support of Afghan operations, not just to defend coalition forces. It is expected to rise further after the Trump administration sent nearly 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan — bringing the total U.S. presence to 15,000 — and grants more latitude to military commanders.

U.S. planes carried out 1,570 strikes from August through October, the most in a three-month period since 2012, according to U.S. Air Force statistics.

In October, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis testified to Congress that Trump had authorized him to eliminate the requirement that U.S. forces could fire only when in “proximity” to hostile fighters.

“In other words, wherever we find the enemy, we can put the pressure from the air support on them,” Mattis said. But he added that U.S. forces would still do “everything humanly possible to prevent the death or injury of innocent people.”


Military officers say every report of civilian casualties is investigated. U.S. forces attempt to interview residents and local officials and use “all forensic actions available, based on the security threat,” said Gresback, the military spokesman.

But just as in Iraq and Syria, where the U.S.-led coalition is accused of significantly undercounting the civilian toll of its air war against Islamic State, Afghan victims believe the U.S. military isn’t being thorough or transparent enough.

 

Mohammad Agha, left, lost his cousin, who was among the 10 people killed in the August bombing that victims’ families said was a U.S. airstrike. Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times

Rozina and relatives of other victims in Loi Papin said American officials have not contacted them. And the U.S. has often pushed back strongly against accusations that its operations are taking a greater toll on innocents.

In early November, after reports that an airstrike killed 14 civilians in the northern province of Kunduz, American officials said they found “no evidence” to support the claims. That prompted a rare direct challenge from the United Nations, which said in a series of tweets that “interviews with multiple survivors, medics, elders & others give strong reason to believe civilians [were] among [the] victims.”

U.S. forces have also suggested that Afghans in Nangarhar are lying about civilian deaths. The military’s initial statement on the Aug. 10 blast called it “the second false claim of civilian casualties in the same district within the last three weeks” — after an incident in which Haska Mina residents told Afghan media that a U.S. strike killed mourners attending a funeral service.

Although public outrage over civilian casualties has softened, Clark said they continue to serve as a propaganda tool for extremists.

“The basic parameters of the war haven’t changed: If you’re killing civilians, it’s going to be problematic,” Clark said. “The bullish U.S. approach, taking the gloves off, that’s all very well, but if there are more dead civilians you’re not going to be better off politically or militarily.”

Ghani’s government has not drawn attention to the strike in Nangarhar, but officials visited from Kabul and gave families condolence payments of more than $1,000 each.

The money won’t replace the loss of family breadwinners, or cover the mounting medical bills for Rozina. She now lives with four family members at an uncle’s house and walks with crutches while she awaits additional operations to her feet.

Khan said he has little sympathy for Islamic State but cannot support the way the U.S. is prosecuting the war.

“The Americans say they are here to kill terrorists, but if they can’t carry out a proper operation, it is better that they leave us alone,” he said. “At least we would not see our families destroyed.”

Special correspondents Sultan Faizy and Mohammad Anwar Danishyar contributed to this report.

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ON MIGRATION: ‘This is the moment’: Dreamers face make-or-break push on immigration fight with Trump

 December 4, 2017, for The Washington Post

Hundreds of students in the D.C. and Maryland area led a school walkout, protest, march and rally on Capitol Hill on Nov. 9 to demand Congress pass a clean Dream Act. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

Through three presidents over a decade, young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” have emerged as a potent political force and the sympathetic public face of the immigration debate.

Since 2012, roughly 800,000 have secured permits from the government allowing them to work without fear of deportation under an Obama-era program. Eighty-six percent of the public favors allowing them to permanently remain in the country. Cultural icons from former president Barack Obama to Kim Kardashian West have sent messages of support.

“I stand with the Dreamers,” Kardashian West wrote on Twitter in September.

Even as the dreamers, brought to the country illegally as children, have become more closely integrated into the fabric of American society, their very political success has exposed them to the whims of Washington’s legislative impotency. Since the George W. Bush administration they have been buffeted by a severe whiplash of extraordinary policy victories — and crushing defeats.

This month, the dreamers face the biggest test yet of their political clout — a make-or-break moment in their long path to the precipice of becoming fully legalized residents. A loss would mean a devastating return to living in the shadows and the perpetual fear of being deported.

President Trump, who ended the Obama-era deferred action program in September, has set a March 5 deadline for lawmakers to act before the bulk of the permits begin to expire at a rate of nearly 1,000 per day. Most on Capitol Hill said a deal must realistically be done before the end of December because a bipartisan agreement would become more difficult in a midterm election year.

For the dreamers, the moment has reactivated a nationwide political network honed over the past decade. Motivated anew, they are planning to ramp up the emotional, in-your-face demonstrations that have brought them to this precipice.

“This is the moment,” said Cristina Jiménez, executive director and co-founder of United We Dream, the nation’s largest dreamer organization. The group is planning a major mobilization Wednesday in which thousands of members are expected to flock to Washington to lobby Congress.

“It’s higher stakes for us in comparison to other fights,” Jiménez said. “The reason why is we’re facing the most aggressive immigration enforcement environment in our lifetime.”

The fight over dreamers could have even greater consequences: Some Democrats have suggested they will not support a must-pass spending bill without a deal that offers the dreamers a path to citizenship. Last week, Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both of Florida, added their names to that list.

On Tuesday, 35 members of the House Republican caucus co-signed a letter calling on House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to allow a vote on a permanent solution for dreamers by the end of the year. But the group, which included a cross-section of new and long-serving members as well as representatives from urban and rural districts, did not endorse a specific piece of legislation or threaten to withhold their votes on other matters if the issue isn’t resolved.

“This is not a threat to leadership,” Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) said, adding: “We don’t want to just pass legislation that would be popular, we want to pass legislation that would be successful.”

“We should not be using these young people’s lives as political footballs,” he said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday urged Congress to protect the dreamers as the business community prepares to push Congress on the issue as well.

“The longer Congress waits, the more Dreamers will lose their ability to work here legally and become subject to immediate deportation,” said Tom Donohue, the Chamber’s president and chief executive. “This will cause serious disruptions in the business operations of the companies that employ them, which is why many business leaders have spoken out and demanded action on this issue.”

Trump — who had previously suggested he would take care of the dreamers — has sent recent signals that he would support a spending bill without a dreamer provision. In tweets, the president has blasted Democrats for obstructing a deal and favoring policies to allow more illegal immigration. “I was troubled that he’s talked about the illegal immigrants pouring into the United States unaccounted for — that isn’t even close to the definition of a dreamer,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said.

Durbin said he doubts whether Trump truly wants to help dreamers after being stung by political blowback from his base over the issue.

In some regards, though, the dreamers already have won the battle of public opinion: 86 percent support allowing them to stay in the country, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll in September.

The broad support reflects the dreamers’ political success in telling their own narrative, a process that began in the final years of the Bush administration amid ramped-up immigration enforcement raids. As dreamers were caught up in the dragnet, they began to go public with their stories, daring authorities to make them a target.

The dreamers modeled their nascent political strategy after gay and lesbian activists who made themselves the faces of their movement. The hope was that the country would see the younger immigrants as responsible students and members of their communities.

“Up until then, the narrative was of immigrants as victims, as living in the shadows,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which acted as an incubator for the group that became United We Dream in 2008.

Although Democrats had introduced the Dream Act, seeking to provide a pathway to citizenship, in 2001, the idea of pushing for legal status for a fraction of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants was initially controversial even among immigration advocates. The dreamers, a group estimated at up to 1.5 million, are considered the most publicly sympathetic of the undocumented population, given that they had no choice in their arrivals in the country.

If they were to achieve legal status, some advocates cautioned, that would make it more politically difficult for others, including their parents.

“This notion that pits dreamers against their own parents — it’s flawed,” Jiménez said. “The framework here as a community is to protect the entire community, and there are strategic decision points made in the last decade or so to be able to bring some good news and to be able to protect some members of our community.”

Frustrated by the failure of a comprehensive immigration overhaul under Bush in 2007 and by Obama’s inaction on immigration during his first two years in office, the immigrant rights movement pushed forward on a version of the Dream Act in 2010.

The bill passed in the House but failed by five votes in the Senate.

After the loss, dreamers turned their political activism on the Obama White House, holding marches and other demonstrations to protest a record level of deportations in his first term. In early 2012, under growing pressure to streamline a huge backlog of immigration cases, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano proposed a deferred action program to allow dreamers to apply for renewable, two-year work permits.

In June 2012, Obama announced the creation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) during remarks in the Rose Gardenpunctuated when a reporter for a conservative news site interrupted the president to ask why the policy favors “foreigners over American workers.”

“I didn’t ask for an argument,” Obama responded, but then answered: “Here’s the reason: because these young people are going to make extraordinary contributions, and are already making contributions to our society.”

“That was one of the most important moments in the immigrant rights movement,” Hincapié said. “This was a victory fought for and won by the people who were directly impacted.”

That’s why, advocates said, it would be so painful if the dreamers lose DACA protections. Having worked openly for five years, they are now facing the prospect of returning to a life on the margins.

“Any debate on immigration once someone has legal status, the carnage and human suffering in moving from legal status to illegal status is incredibly compelling,” said Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney and former aide to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) who worked on a 2013 immigration bill.

In 2015, a federal judge in Texas blocked Obama’s bid to create a larger deferred-action program for up to 4 million immigrant parents of U.S. citizens. The injunction remained in place after the Supreme Court deadlocked, 4 to 4, on the case last year.

This summer, Texas and several other states threatened to sue the Trump administration over DACA, prompting Trump to rescind it in September, saying the program was unconstitutional.

Ironically, it is Trump whose actions could finally push the dreamers over the top in their long campaign to win legal status.

“He will absolutely get credit for that,” Hincapié said. “If I were advising him, it would be something to get behind, and he could say whatever he wants to say to his base. At the end of the day, he’s the leader of the Republican Party, and it’s something his party needs, something the country needs, and it’s good for the dreamers.”

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ON ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT: Investors make a bet to lift Boston-area neighborhood out of poverty

By 

A homeless man sleeps while a subway rider waits for the train at a subway stop in Boston. – Darren McCollester/Newsmakers

How do you raise the standard of living in the poorest neighborhoods in the country?

That’s what community developers, typically nonprofits that build and finance affordable housing, have tried to do over the last few decades. And yet, despite more than $100 billion going into affordable housing and commercial projects every year, many of these communities remain stuck in poverty. A big part of the problem is a lack of cash, specifically the kind of private investment that attracts new residents and jobs.

Terri Englen and her husband Joseph, both 68, know what it’s like to live in tough neighborhoods. For more than four decades, the couple has lived in Chelsea, Massachusetts, right across the harbor from Boston. The location drew them there, close enough for the working couple to get to and from their jobs.

But for years their neighborhood, about eight square blocks, stood out for all the wrong reasons. Abandoned cinder block, ramshackle factories at the bottom of the hill, over-crowded multifamily homes at the top and in the middle an illegal garbage dump.

“People would go by in their cars and throw whatever, anything,” Terry said.

But in 2006, things began to change. Developers built affordable apartments. In 2010, they converted a historic factory into market-rate lofts that back then went for about $1,400 per month and today run nearly $1,800. The area even got a name: the Box District.

The neighborhood improved, but was still rough around the edges, said Maggie Church, senior adviser at Conservation Law Foundation, a New England community group.

“It really [wasn’t] enough to move the market to the point where investment is available and conventionally used,” she said.

This problem has stumped community developers for decades. But two local nonprofits think they’ve hit on something: They’ve created a private equity fund.

“We’re trying to foster and promote you can make a reasonable return and have a positive impact in these neighborhoods,” said Joe Flatley, president of the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corp.

Since 2013, this group, working with the Conservation Law Foundation, has raised $22 million from investors like philanthropists, socially minded banks and a hospital, the Boston Medical Center, for residential and commercial projects around Boston.

Their secret: minimize risk.

The Healthy Neighborhoods Equity Fund takes money from philanthropists, the investors less concerned with profit, and bundles that with money from the others. If the fund underperforms, philanthropies take the hit first, making the investment less risky.

It’s still a gamble. Flatley said that’s why they pick their locations that on paper have the best chance to succeed.

“Places that you can walk, where you are accessible to transit, where there are places to shop for food,” he said.

Because the fund’s goal is to create stable mixed-income communities, not expensive neighborhoods for tattooed hipsters, HNEF also looks for well-managed affordable housing and buy-in from current residents.

The Box District fits that description.

In 2015, the fund invested in the construction of a new 96-unit apartment building primarily with market-rate units.

“We love it here,” said 26-year-old Flavia Wilson Janzen, a working professional who recently moved with her husband from Minneapolis into a one-bedroom in that building. They enjoy the mixed-income vibe.

“I can walk down the street with my dog and go to the park and there’s kids everywhere. You know, it’s like, it does feel more like a community,” she said.

Another step HNEF has taken to attract private capital to these neighborhoods is by focusing on health.

Not the doctor, health care clinic kind, but a more expansive definition that includes safety and affordable food.

“Those are things that aren’t typically thought of as health, and yet we know they are the keys to being healthy,” said Dr. Megan Sandel, a fund investor from Boston Medical Center.

The fund plans to issue report cards after five and 10 years tracking whether rates of chronic disease and mental health have improved with the investment.

That’s all in the future. Chelsea resident Terri Englen is focused on today.

“As far as the environment right now, it’s not like it used to be,” she said.

One of the most obvious signs of change: The dump is gone. The Englens and other neighbors cleaned it up to “beautify the place” Englen said. In its place they planted sunflowers.

“You would not think driving down the street you would see sunflowers,” she said. “It kind of surprises you when you go around the bend.”

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AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: In Afghanistan, a Struggle to Leave No Woman or Child Behind

Gender-based violence is pervasive in Afghanistan, but activists see a change in the wind.

By Tadamichi Yamamoto, December 4, 2017, for The Diplomat

The ancient Mosque in Mazar-e Sharif, April 25, 2017. Image Credit: UNAMA / Fardin Waezi.

Gender-based violence in Afghanistan can take myriad, often less-than-subtle forms, particularly in the most remote regions of the country. When human rights worker Sadia Ekrami tried to speak about basic rights to a crowd of men in a village in northern Afghanistan, she was threatened with death, and forced to flee for her life. “Fortunately, I talked my way out of them killing me, but it is an example of how women in Afghanistan who speak out can end up dead,” she said.

Sadia, also a social media expert, knows a bit about the problem. She follows every form of gender-based violence in northern Afghanistan. A recent survey, which she conducted, turned up some classic tales of workplace harassment. In one case, a male colleague told a female co-worker that he had fallen in love with a movie actress “who looked just like her.” When he gave her a flash drive containing an inappropriate movie, she was not amused.

Other school girls in the northern city of Mazar-I-Sharif, as in large cities anywhere in the world, report being stalked. Indeed, around 87 percent of Afghan women experience at least one form of gender-based violence in their lifetime, according to the United Nations.

Yet, Sadia sees signs of change in the air – and across the region. “Social media has opened up new possibilities for women and girls in Afghanistan,” she said. “Before we didn’t know what to do, but now women are telling their stories.”

The struggle of Afghan women, girls, and boys to overcome abuse, harassment, gender-based violence, and sexual violence has its parallels around the world, and has been addressed in new ways in 2017, particularly through the media. Societal definitions of what constitutes gender-directed violence and sexual violence are under fresh scrutiny. This year’s vibrant global conversation, inspired by new stories in the media about gender-based violence, abuse, and harassment stemming from a willingness of survivors to speak out, has given fresh impetus for change on a global scale.

Annually, the “16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, “ which runs from November 25 to December 10, marks a global campaign aimed at raising public awareness and mobilizing everyone – men, women, and children – to counter all forms of  violence against women, girls, and boys. The theme of this year’s 2017 campaign is “Leave no one behind,” a notion that suggests to me that we need to reach out as families, communities and institutions to confront this scourge in new ways.

As the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, I lead an assistance mission focused on preventing conflict and making peace, and this also includes addressing the root causes of the violence that shatters the lives of women, girls, and children.

KABUL, 14 June 2017 – UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Kabul’s outskirts met today with some of the 800,000 Afghans displaced by conflict in last 18 months, as part of a one-day visit to the country’s capital. The Secretary-General is visiting Afghanistan to show solidarity with the Afghan people – backing an Afghan-led peace process and supporting the communities most affected by the conflict. Photo UNAMA / Fardin Waezi.

In Afghanistan, gender-based violence takes extraordinary forms, including women and girls traded in a marriage exchanges between families in a practice known as badal, giving away girls to settle disputes, known as ba’ad, and  the practice of bacha bazi, where boys are used as sex slaves.

Fortunately, Afghanistan’s government in concert with the United Nations has already acknowledged that gender-based violence is endemic and needs to be eradicated through, among other means, the rule of law and proper enforcement mechanisms.

Pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1325, passed in 2000, Afghanistan has put in place the Elimination of Violence against Women Law (EVAW Law), including the establishment of the Commissions on EVAW at national and local levels and the EVAW Prosecution Units. It also has seen to the creation of women protection centers and the progressive increase in recruitment of policewomen.

Today, across Afghanistan, there are 205 gender response units, run primarily by women of the Afghanistan National Police, in some of the most troubled parts of the country. Despite the challenges they face in gaining acceptance, I am encouraged by the dedication of these Afghan policewomen. Their motivations to work in the special police force spring from their compassion, concern, and generosity for all Afghans, particularly women and girls.

One new recruit told the UN that she had joined after seeing a woman “killed in broad daylight” in Kabul. Other women, who come from broken and brutal homes, do it literally to stop others from being victimized by the same variety of violence that has ripped through their own lives.

Another recruit told the UN: “My own mother used to face so much violence. The marriage of my mother was a forced one. She used to be beaten by my father daily, and mentally she was abused all her life. Due to all this violence and issues, my mother is not well. She is mentally ill and doesn’t recognize her children, which is painful.”

These women have become heroes in their own communities: They sometimes take victims of gender-based violence into their own homes, acts of valor that put their own lives and families at risk.

Though women in developed countries are also subject to ostracism and further abuse for speaking out, in Afghanistan that can also be accompanied by societal perceptions that the violations of a woman or girl has tainted her for life. She, in turn, can be abandoned by her own family.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has taken a special interest in providing support for media organizations determined to break the silence and help marginalized women, girls, and boys tell their stories. The UN has sponsored forums and athletic events to promote conversation and awareness of gender-based violence and harassment, and has worked with local media outlets to extend these messages across the country.

What I’ve learned from watching our work with the media is that a responsible press is a key to shining a light into dark corners and onto the harsh realities of gender-based violence. Even reporters, who persuade their editors of the need for more in-depth reporting on these forms of violence, are helping to fulfill a promise to all of us.

It is my hope that in the coming year, in Afghanistan and across the region, we can find new approaches to tackling gender-based violence. All of us can take part by promoting a gender-friendly work environment, assessing our own behavior, supporting the hard work of law enforcement, and thinking of creative ways to address what are arguably some of humanity’s most shameful practices.

Tadamichi Yamamoto is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and the Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

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ON THE MEDIA: The media today – A unionization wave across the industry

By Pete Vernon, November 20, 2017, for Columbia Journalism Review

ACROSS THE MEDIA LANDSCAPE, as consolidation and technological advancements drive rapid change, a mainstay of 20th century labor battles is having its moment. Staffers from numerous outlets, both legacy print and digital-only, are unionizing.

At the Los Angeles Times, long a bastion of anti-union sentiment, staffers have engaged in a public-facing unionization drive, challenging its parent company Tronc. For CJR, Shaya Tayefe Mohajer traces the paper’s history with labor, which includes a bombing of the Times office by a pair of brothers hired by unionists. Writing on the current state of play, she contrasts the huge raises that Tronc executives have given themselves, even as they demand cuts across their newsrooms, with the pay cuts taken by New York Times executives over the same period (the NYT newsroom has long been unionized). Mohajer writes that “the successful formation of a union at the Los Angeles Times would have been largely unimaginable in the last century,” but Times national correspondent Matt Pearce tells her, “We think this can be successful. We’re the dominant publication in the most populous, wealthiest state in the country, one that is driving the direction of the country in many ways.”

A wave of unionization has taken place across the digital media landscape in recent years, with journalists at Vice, Gizmodo Media Group, HuffPost, and other outlets organizing. Last week, staffers at Vox Media—the digital startup that runs eight sites, including Eater, Recode, and Vox.com—announced their intention to do the same.

The dismal financial picture for media outlets is well known. Last week’s news that BuzzFeed and Vice would fall significantly shortof their revenue targets only added to the gloomy prognosis. Facing that uncertain future, it’s no surprise that journalists would opt for the collective bargaining rights and employee protections that unions offer. Management at many of those outlets, however, is pushing back. One week after DNAinfo and Gothamist staffers voted to unionize, the sites’ billionaire owner Joe Ricketts shut down his entire operation. Even at liberal sites, like Slate, resistance from management has been stiff.

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HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: Why Jazz Lovers Should Travel To Haiti For This Unique Musical Experience

By Isis Briones, November 20, 2017, for Forbes

A trumpeter at the Catts Pressoir Music School during PapJazz. (Courtesy of PapJazz Festival)

Haiti might be off the beaten path, but it’s home to one of the most unique music festival experiences around. Into its 12th edition, the annual Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival, also known as PapJazz, is back and better than ever this January 2018.

The event is opening the world to seeing the country’s special culture and the genre of jazz music in a new light. From after hours jam sessions at some of the best local restaurants in the capital city to hit Haitian-born DJ, Michael Brun, dropping a dance influenced set, expect an unexpected combination of sounds to come together. Instead of planning for your usual festivals, dare to go somewhere different. To get a deeper understanding of what attendees can look forward to, I spoke with the foundation’s manager, Milena Sandler, who made it clear why this is a can’t miss adventure.

Isis Briones: What was the inspiration behind the PapJazz? 

Milena Sandler: “It came naturally to musician and President of the Haiti Jazz Foundation, Joel Widmaier. From a jazz background through his dad, the late Herby Widmaeier — who has been a promoter of jazz in Haiti through his radio shows — he wanted to do something that would honor the legendary genre in his country. Joel has also taken part in many festivals around the world and knew what it took to put one together on an international level.”

IB: It’s remarkable that the festival also includes a mentorship program for native artists. Can you elaborate on its mission and how it came about? 

MS“Since the first edition back in 2007, artists have always been asked to offer workshops geared towards aspiring, young musicians — free of charge. There is no jazz education and very few music schools in Haiti, so this is an opportunity for them to learn from professionals from all over the world.

Today we can pride ourselves in having participated in the creation of new generation jazz musicians. Moreover, we recently started a school program, where we will give free jazz, harmony, composition, and music appreciation classes. We also plan to obtain grants that will improve the students’ equipment and provide seminars for them”

IB: EDM was also incorporated in the lineup through Michael Brun and given the influence dance music has on the festival scene, do you foresee the different genres blending on a larger scale? 

MS: “Our challenge and objective since the start has been to attract a larger crowd to this jazz festival, including a public not familiar with it. Plus, the Haitian music is very diverse and the inclusion of all kinds of music is what’s made us successful.

However, we still plan to focus the majority of the lineup on jazz musicians and at the end of the day, Michael is a great illustration of this. We didn’t pick just any DJ, Michael includes his Haitian jazz roots into his sound. He will be closing out the festival this year showcasing the perfect example of diversity.”

An inside look into PapJazz. (Courtesy of PapJazz)

IB: Beyond revolutionizing people’s perspective on jazz, what are some stereotypical misconceptions about Haiti that you feel the festival is helping change? 

MS: “The first thing that comes to mind is that in Haiti great things can happen. We offer events that meets international standards in terms of organization logistics, sound quality, comfort, and of course, security. Yes, there’s a lot of poverty, but at the same time, the Haitian people have a real ‘Joie de Vivre’ that you can feel through their smiles and faith for a better tomorrow. Attending PapJazz does something to you, anyone who goes come back with a new outlook on Haiti and a better understanding of what the country could become.

IB: 12 years is also a long time to be hosting a worldwide event, what would you say about this year makes things even better than the last? Can you point out some highlights festival goers shouldn’t miss? 

MS: “We strive to bring better lineups each year, which is no easy task. Jazz musician fees can be quite expensive and it’s important to remember that the festival is a nonprofit with most shows being free. Luckily, this year, we are proud to include two Grammy Award winners and thanks to the participation of foreign embassies, we were able to have artists from 12 countries.

In this edition, we also made a commitment to make the event a tourist destination, in which we created various packages that allow for the possibility to explore the country, the kindness of its people, its rich culture, and beautiful beaches on a higher level. We know it will be an unforgettable experience.”

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ON THE MEDIA: Documentary Filmmaker Frederick Wiseman on Life in Donald Trump’s America

By Will Tizard, November 12, 2017, for Variety

Frederick Wiseman, 87, whom Camerimage Film Festival is honoring with a retrospective of five films and its award for Outstanding Achievements in Documentary Filmmaking, has remained resolute in his approach to subjects, from Chicago public housing to juvenile court, beef feed lots and Paris’ Crazy Horse nightclub, since 1967. That’s when his first film, “Titicut Follies,” exposed such abusive practices at the Bridgewater, Massachusetts hospital for the criminally insane that it was banned for decades (though attorneys argued it was a violation of patients’ privacy).

His new project, “Ex Libris,” is an incisive, three-hour-plus look at the New York Public Library system that presents a host of the real-life heroes, struggles and small victories that have drawn audiences to Wiseman’s work ever since he left behind his career as an instructor and/or researcher at Boston University, Brandeis and Harvard, and picked up a camera.

“Ex Libris” leaves you with kind of a glow – something about seeing all these brilliant librarians thinking up incredible ways to serve their community.
Trump has made it a political film. Because everything the library represents is in such stark contract to everything he represents. Interest in others, helping poor people, helping immigrants, you can go right down the line – everything. Access to knowledge, interest in science…

The New York Public Library staff are incredibly resourceful and motivated, as you discovered.
They’re genuinely interested in helping other people. And that’s nice to see any time – particularly great to see it now. It’s interesting for Europeans to see it because a lot of them have never been to America and all they know about is Trump. And it gives them a sense of another aspect of American life.

You’ve said you never go into a film with a thesis and that filming is your research – what was your most striking discovery in “Ex Libris”?
The real answer to that question is what you see in the film. I think it’s the variety, the diversity of activities – and wish to genuinely help other people, which the diversity of activity is an expression of.

I really don’t know what the point of view or the themes are until I begin to put the sequences together. And that’s after seven or eight months of editing.

I first edited all the sequences I thought I might use, and then when I thought all the so-called candidate sequences were editing and close to final form then I began to work on the structure at that point. I made the first assembly very quickly – maybe three or four days. Because I knew the material very well and I could make the changes fast.

What’s your method for constructing the narrative at that point?
The first assembly always comes out 30 or 40 minutes longer than the final film and then it takes me six or eight weeks after that where I work on the internal rhythm within a sequence, the transition sequences, until I’m satisfied that I’ve got the best film I can make out of the material I have.

And then I go back and I look at all the rushes all over again to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything that might be useful as a result of the choices that I’ve made.

It’s fascinating how public and private funding come together in such a vast institution, which your frequent focus on exploring class really illustrates.
It’s about 50-50. I think their annual budget is about $300 million and half come from the private sector and half from the city.

The library bridges the class divide in the sense that all classes use it and rich people support it. And you see all classes, races and ethnicities are present. But in terms of the great gap between rich and poor in America now, it certainly suggests that, although it doesn’t deal with that – it’s not a principal theme of the film.

But you see the people who are the board of trustees and you contrast them with the people you see who are in that one-room library in Harlem. It does begin to suggest that there’s a pretty big gap.

“Ex Libris” involved more locations than you’ve ever had – 13, correct? How do you not get lost while editing all this material yourself?
Yeah, that is the most. That’s where you make or break the film, in the editing. You can have good material and screw it up or you can have mediocre material and improve it. I don’t start with a script or anything so the idea is always to find the film in the rushes.

Well, if I’m having a bad day, I go take a walk or take a nap then go back at it. I like doing it so that helps.

But most documentarians really value an objective editor who can come in cold and spot the holes and the areas that might be confusing.
I could never do that. You have to have good picture and you have to have good sound. But you can screw up in the editing. I would never delegate it to anyone else.

Right from your start with “Titicut Follies” in 1967, you’ve rejected the conventions of interviews, voiceovers and music. Did you always have the feeling that these manipulate the audience’s emotions?
I don’t feel any need to do it. Yeah, that’s what music does. I try to do it with the music that’s available that the people in the film heard.

There’s a lot of music in my films but it’s always music that’s recorded as part of the shooting. It’s not added music. There’s a lot of music in “Ex Libris” but it’s all music that I recorded as part of the shooting.

I try to cut the movie so that I give the viewer enough information so that they can understand what’s going on. When this technique works, it works because the viewer feels that they’re present. I’m not against interviews – I’m only against using them myself. I mean Marcel Ophuls has made great movies because he’s a terrific interviewer.

Same with voiceovers – I don’t like to use anything that distances the viewer from what they’re watching.

You’re also a purist in your stand against re-enactments, insisting on filming only what occurs in front of the lens. But doesn’t this mean important events can often happen off camera?
Inevitably you miss stuff but I like to be prepared to shoot interesting things that are going on when I’m present. At least I don’t know what I missed when I’m not present!

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AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: Afghanistan in 2017: A Survey of the Afghan People

Report from the Asia Foundation, November 14, 2017

The 2017 Survey of the Afghan People polled 10,012 Afghan respondents from 16 ethnic groups across all 34 provinces, including insecure and physically challenging environments. The annual survey is the longest-running and broadest nationwide survey of Afghan attitudes and opinions. Since 2004, the Survey has gathered the opinions of more than 97,000 Afghan men and women, providing a unique longitudinal portrait of evolving public perceptions of security, the economy, governance and government services, elections, media, women’s issues, and migration.

Despite security and economic concerns in Afghanistan, annual poll of 10,000 citizens reveals slight rise in optimism

Kabul, November 14, 2017 — The number of Afghans who say the country is moving in the right direction has increased and optimism has risen slightly, reversing a decade-long downward trajectory in national mood, according to a new survey released today by The Asia Foundation. At the same time, fears about security and the economy affect attitudes about the future of the country, and a large number of respondents indicate they would leave the country if afforded the opportunity. The findings are based on face-to-face interviews with a national sample of more than 10,000 Afghan citizens representing all major and most minor ethnic groups in all 34 provinces. Read the executive summary, FAQ, and analysis here.

The findings of the 13th Survey of the Afghan People emerge amid the escalation of attacks in Afghanistan and the U.S. administration’s new strategy for the South Asia region. Despite some progress, Afghanistan is still the most fragile and volatile country in the region, and the country most affected by terrorism, second only to Iraq. In this challenging research environment, the annual Asia Foundation Survey is the longest-running and broadest survey of Afghan attitudes on critical issues facing the country. Since 2004, the Survey has gathered the opinions of more than 97,000 Afghan men and women, providing an unmatched longitudinal portrait of public perceptions of security, the economy, governance and government services, elections, media, women’s issues, and migration. The 2017 Survey includes additional questions related to migration and remittances, a significant issue for Afghanistan’s economy.

Despite significant challenges, the Survey was conducted in Afghanistan against a backdrop of increasing life expectancy, rising educational attainment, and expanded access to education, especially for girls. Today, expected educational attainment at birth is 10.1 years, compared to 2.5 years in 2000 under the Taliban. In 2002, Afghanistan had just one million students; today it has 8.7 million, 39% of them female. Life expectancy at birth has increased from 45.3 years in 2000 to 60.7 years in 2017.

“Clearly, Afghans are eager for a better future, and this year’s data reflects a rise in optimism despite the challenging security environment and lack of employment,” said Abdullah Ahmadzai, The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Afghanistan. “After a historic decline in 2016, confidence in public institutions and the Afghan National Security Forces have slightly improved in 2017. The Survey also reveals what Afghans see as their immediate priorities: educational development, agricultural development, good security, and the building of roads and bridges are frequently cited as going well at the local level.”

“The Survey is a map of social change over time, presenting a clear picture of the gains and gaps that Afghans perceive in a rapidly transforming nation,” said David D. Arnold, president, The Asia Foundation. “In this crucial period of political and economic transition, the importance of comprehensive, reliable data cannot be overstated,”

Rise in optimism despite violence, insurgencies, and lack of employment

32.8% of Afghans say their country is moving in the right direction, reversing a downward trend in mood that began in 2013. A desire to rebuild (51.0%) contributed to the slight rise in optimism, and Afghans cite improvements in governance (26.7%), rights for women (14.9%), and the economy (11.6%) as reasons for the uptick in mood, despite the nation’s challenges to maintain security against the Taliban insurgency and the growing presence of ISIS/Daesh. The number who say the country is moving in the wrong direction declined to 61.2% from a 2016 high of 65.9%. Drops in fear were recorded in the East and Southwest of Afghanistan, but in the West fear for personal safety spiked from 67.5% in 2016 to 80.2% in 2017. 70.6% of Afghans say the biggest problem facing youth is unemployment, consistent with 2016 data; this is particularly pronounced in the Central/Kabul region (76.8% of respondents).

Growing confidence in Afghan National Security Forces

Attitudes toward the Afghan National Police (ANP) and Afghan National Army (ANA) have stabilized in 2017, which after 2014 sharply declined in all categories of capacity and performance assessed by the Survey. The number of Afghans who strongly agree that the ANP is honest and fair increased by 7.2 percentage points over 2016. The proportion of Afghans who strongly agree that the ANP helps improve security has stopped falling, with a slight uptick of 2.0 percentage points this year in assessments that the ANP is efficient at arresting criminals. Findings for the ANA parallel the ANP data, with a 5.2-point gain since 2016 for “honest and fair,” a 4.6-point gain for “helps improve security,” and a 3.4-point gain for “protects civilians.”

Heightened sense of risk contributes to rising number of Afghans willing to migrate

38.8% of Afghans would leave the country if afforded the opportunity—the second-highest level recorded in Survey history. Men (41.2%) are more likely than women (36.3%) to wish to leave Afghanistan. An increase in casualty deaths, clashes, and attacks in Kabul have combined to strongly influence the willingness to leave—76.3% cite insecurity as a top reason to leave Afghanistan followed by unemployment at 54.5%. Those aware of ISIS/Daesh express a desire to leave at 40.5%, compared to those who have not heard of this group (32.7%). For the first time, this year’s Survey looked at the factors that might encourage Afghans not to migrate; the most frequently cited reason for staying is Afghan identity (82.9%); those who want to stay report “this is my country” and “I feel comfortable here.”

Afghans support women’s leadership and education but the picture is mixed

Women are becoming more visible in the news media and broadcast television, but support for women in leadership roles is mixed. Most Afghans (69.7%) agree women should be able to join a community development council; there is less support for a woman to become a cabinet member (56.0%), a provincial governor (55.4%), and a CEO of a private company (54.6%). In 2016, 74.0% agreed women should be allowed to work outside the home; that percentage dipped slightly this year to 72.4%. In 2006, a record 91.5% said women should have the same opportunities as men in education; this year 82.3% say this. Like last year, more than a third (36.4%) say education/illiteracy is a problem for women, making this the biggest problem facing women cited across all genders, ages, ethnicities, and the rural/urban divide.

Afghans are slightly more confident in public institutions and government performance

After a historic decline in 2016, confidence in public institutions has improved; some remain skeptical about leaders’ abilities to improve living conditions. 56.2% believe the National Unity Government (NUG) is doing a good job, a 7.1 percentage point increase from 2016 data, and 56.9% are satisfied with their provincial governments. 47.1% of urban residents are satisfied with municipal government, an increase from a record low last year of 42.4%, while rural Afghans are satisfied with their district governments, also an uptick, at 55.8%. Afghans are still most confident in their religious leaders (67.3%), followed by the media (65.7%) and community shuras/jirgas (65.7%).

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ON MIGRATION: In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

By Alex Leary, November 17, 2017, for Tampa Bay Times

A mosque in downtown Utica was once a Methodist church that had been abandoned and was going to cost the city about $1 million to raze. The Bosnian Islamic Association of Utica took it over and revitalized the property, which now serves a diverse Muslim population. (ALEX LEARY | Times)

 

Pat Marino pulled into the shop on a cold, wet Thursday and stood close as a young mechanic with gelled-up hair and earrings lifted the truck and ducked underneath.

“You need a little bit more oil,” the mechanic said.

“Five quarts wasn’t enough? Oh, okay.”

An ordinary scene on an unremarkable afternoon. But as the men got talking, they revealed the story of this city’s rise, fall and scrappy climb back — one the descendant of immigrants, the other an immigrant himself.

“My grandparents came over from Italy in the 1920s,” said Marino, 63. “We had a bar and restaurant a block up from here on Kossuth.”

The restaurant is boarded up, the casualty of a decades-long economic collapse that saw Utica’s population of 100,000 cut nearly in half as mills, factories and powerhouse employers like GE vanished. A nearby Air Force base closed in 1995.

“My friends I grew up with,” Marino said, “they’re gone.”

Though still struggling, Utica today has signs of hope, built largely on refugees who have stabilized the population, rehabbed homes and started businesses. An abandoned Methodist church downtown that faced a wrecking ball was transformed into a lively mosque. Another mosque sits across the street from the old Marino restaurant.

The garage is owned by a Bosnian and the mechanic, 24-year-old Irfet “Fetty” Covic, arrived in Utica with his refugee parents at age 2. “At first there were a lot of insults, they called me ‘onion’ because Bosnians eat a lot of them,” said Covic, whose grandfather was killed in the Balkan war. “Now I don’t even classify myself as Bosnian as much. I feel American.”

President Donald Trump took a hard line on immigration during the 2016 campaign and has issued controversial travel bans. He is slashing the number of refugee admissions to a record low, while raising fears of terrorism that have been echoed by politicians across the country, including Florida.

But a different story is playing out in Utica and other large cities in upstate New York.

Tens of thousands of refugees — Vietnamese, Burmese, Bhutanese, Bosnians, Somali Bantu, Iraqis, Syrians, Ukranians — have been resettled in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica, one-time industrial hubs animated by Italian, Irish, German and Polish immigrants.

New York took in 40,000 refugees in the past decade alone, almost all of them upstate, and has the third-largest refugee population in the nation.

Some tension exists, but the communities have largely embraced the influx. Crowds have shown up for rallies opposing Trump’s policies. Lawsuits have been joined.

In Utica, where Mayor Robert Palmieri calls refugees the “next evolution,” some light manufacturing has returned and the downtown shows signs of life. Behind the counter of a busy cafe on a recent morning stood a rare breed: A Utica native who moved to New York City but has returned to start the business.

“Many people in Utica remember their grandparents not speaking English or speaking with an accent. They recognize what’s happening isn’t so different than their own story a few generations ago,” said Shelly Callahan, executive director of Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees.

“The place just lends itself to growth and rebirth. We’re intrepid here.”

• • •

Today, nearly a quarter of the 62,000 Utica residents are immigrants, providing a stabilizing force. Between 2000 and 2015, the U.S.-born population in Utica dropped by 3,100 but the foreign-born population grew by 3,500.

“It’s very cheap, not like Boston,” said Jafar Mohamed, 30, who as a boy fled the civil war in Somalia and grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya. He saved up money as a cab driver in Boston and this year bought a small market in Utica called Golden Halal. He is working on a GED.

The transition has not been easy. The school district struggles to keep up with an influx of students, many of whom arrive with little or no English and varying degrees of education. Last year the district settled a lawsuit that accused it of diverting refugees from the city’s lone public high school to alternative programs.

Refugees are eligible for public assistance and stores across Utica prominently advertise that they accept “EBT,” debit-like cards that can be used for food, and longtime residents grumble about their neediness.

The presidential election brought animosities to the surface, with a handful of reports of people yelling at women in hijabs or online commenters inveighing about a city overtaken by Muslims. Even among those who welcome the newcomers, security concerns persist.

“Look at what just happened in New York City,” said Marino, the man at the garage, referring to the immigrant who on Halloween used a truck to mow down eight pedestrians. “Today, I don’t know, everything is so different from when I was growing up.”

The night before at one of Utica’s Italian restaurants, Fox News played coverage of the attack, carried out by a Uzbekistan man who arrived on a diversity visa. “Imagine if Italians started coming here killing everyone,” one man said. The owner complained about newer refugees “from the jungle” being on welfare and how they can’t drive well and wear flip-flops during winter. But he also credited Bosnians for “saving” the city.

Bosnians arrived in Utica after the Balkan conflict in the early 1990s, and have most successfully integrated into the community, buying and rehabbing hundreds of homes. Their stucco work has brightened up parts of the city. The old Methodist church downtown was going to cost the city $1 million to raze but the Bosnian Islamic community took it over and converted it into a mosque, where on a recent Friday, dozens of men — white, African, Asian — showed up, removing their shoes before stepping onto the red-and-gold patterned carpet.

“They are definitely making Utica a better place. They make me feel like Americans are lazy compared to them,” said Tricia Curran, 47, who grew up in an Italian family. Twelve years ago she and her husband bought a dilapidated home for $16,000 and made repairs, boosting the value to $33,000. Then Bosnians began buying up property and Curran’s assessment jumped to $78,000.

She is not fearful of the new arrivals, which include some Syrians. “The killing at the concert in Las Vegas,” Curran said, “that was an American. You can’t call all Americans terrorists because of one person.”

At the same time, her sister blames refugees for why she can’t find a job as a bank teller.

• • •

The question of jobs is steeped in the immigration debate, one side accusing refugees of taking paychecks from Americans, the other saying Americans don’t want tough, low-paying jobs.

More than a decade ago when Callahan started working at the refugee center, jobs were harder to come by. “Now we’re finding lots of jobs and employers are often asking for more workforce than we have,” she said, noting that the American-born labor pool has not only shrunk but aged, and opioid addiction and the heroin epidemic have taken a toll.

A job board at the center carried postings for blackjack dealers at nearby Turning Stone casino, lift operators at a ski hill and school bus drivers. DHL, the shipping company, recently called seeking up to 60 people.

Dozens of refugees travel to the Chobani yogurt factory in New Berlin, about 40 miles south. The company was started by Turkish immigrant Hamdi Ulukaya, who has faced threats and calls for boycotts over his hiring practices.

“That’s been the American way the whole time — immigrants fill the jobs,” said Beth Broadway, CEO of Interfaith Works of Central New York, a nonprofit that settles refugees in Syracuse. A Kraft Heinz plant that makes Philadelphia Cream Cheese called this summer looking for 25 workers to fill a new shift and offered to provide bus transportation for the 90-mile trip north to Lowville, she said. One idea is to provide ESL classes during the commute.

In Manlius, just outside Syracuse, nearly 350 refugees work at Stickley, an upscale furniture maker. “All we do is open a door. We don’t do this as a charity,” said CEO Aminy Audi. “I think it’s the right thing to do, to be welcoming, but it’s up to them to earn their positions — and they do.” One of the top HR managers is a Bosnian refugee.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which advocates for reducing immigration, argued that refugees allow cities such as Utica and Syracuse to avoid addressing problems such as high taxes and regulations that could attract businesses and keep up the population.

“The yogurt factory is getting these workers who for the most part aren’t ex-cons or drug users,” he said. “But the taxpayer is having to help these people feed their own children.”

The toll on public assistance and other support systems is significant. However, a study released this summer by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that refugees who came as adults pay $21,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits over their first 20 years in the United States.

• • •

Syracuse has been one of the most eager cities, taking in about 1,200 refugees a year, among the highest per capita rate in the country. Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, stepped into a heated national debate in 2015 by calling for more Syrian refugees. “Immigrants and refugees are the victims of crime, not the perpetrators,” she said in an interview.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott objected to taking in Syrians, citing concerns over vetting after the 2015 Paris terrorist attack. Florida, which does not face the same economic or population challenges as upstate New York, took in about 2,500 refugees that year. New York welcomed more than 4,000.

“Maybe we need to take a step back as a country and say, ‘Hey, the president is onto something here. There are folks in the world who want to do the U.S. harm and we need a stronger vetting program,’ ” said Tom Dadey, the GOP chairman in Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse.

Advocates and national security experts say the vetting process is already rigorous, lasting up to two years and featuring extensive interviews, background checks and biometric data collection.

The growing Muslim population in Syracuse has created friction. Some people were angry when a Roman Catholic church on the North Side, closed due to declining attendance, was converted into a mosque in 2015. Other mosques have sprung up.

“If they don’t speak English, guess what, they don’t need to be here because we don’t have the money to support them,” said Danny Vansice, 50, an out-of-work truck driver who was walking by a small mosque on North Salina Street. “I don’t trust them. They’re all terrorists to me.”

Across the street, Rosanne Anthony, 62, worked in the backroom of the A-1 Trophy shop started by her parents 40 years ago. “Some people feel their way of life is being threatened, that we’re too generous,” she said, adding that she views refugees as hard working and family focused.

Trump has set the refugee cap next year at 45,000, the lowest since 1980 and far below the 75,000 sought by refugee advocates. Trump’s travel bans have already slowed populations and placement centers in Utica and Syracuse say their numbers could be down by as much as half. They have laid off staff.

Maha Aldujaili, who arrived in Syracuse from Iraq in 2014, is losing hope that she’ll be reunited with her husband, who she said was kidnapped and held for ransom. The people who took him threatened to cut off his head and kill her children, she said through an interpreter. Her husband was freed and she has applied for him to come to the United States. But the process is not moving.

“I’m getting depressed. I’m unable to continue my life without him,” said Aldujaili, 48. Meanwhile, her three children, one attending community college, are trying to adapt. “I am starting from zero and again feel persecuted and have no rights because the president is making decisions against us.”

The situation for Mudey Omar, 35, is more hopeful after a long struggle. It took him six years to gain admittance into the U.S. from a refugee camp in Kenya, where he sought harbor from the extremist group Al-Shabaab in his native Somalia, which tried to recruit him as a solider.

“The vetting they do is already extreme. Only people who come through that vetting know,” Omar said, seated at a table with refugees from Iraq and Bhutan, both of whom said they were tortured by enemies in their countries.

Omar started as a janitor at Rite-Aid and now works as a case worker for other refugees while driving for Uber and Lyft on the weekends. Married to a fellow refugee with three U.S.-born children, he wants to pool money with a friend and buy a home.

Last Monday, he passed the test to become an American citizen.

“I have voice now. I can vote,” he said. “I can travel back to Somalia and see my brothers and sisters. But this is my home now. It’s good for my children — they will have a better future.”

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AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: Afghanistan’s booming heroin trade leaves trail of addiction at home

By Sune Engel Rasmussen, November 16, 2017, for The Guardian

With the country’s opium production rising by 87% on last year, a former US base in Helmand is now a drug abuse treatment centre

Opium addicts gather to smoke by a wall in a public park in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, where half of Afghanistan’s opium is produced. Photograph: Andrew Quilty

For a decade, the office of the British Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand was busy dispersing hundreds of millions of aid dollars across the province.

Now, the base is barren; stripped of everything of value. Occasional moans reverberate down the corridors where gaunt-looking men sleep, belly-down, seeking respite from the sun beating through the windows. All of them are recovering drug addicts.

In one room, an elderly man tumbled off his bunk. “Allah, Allah,” Mohammad Rahim mutters, flapping his arms and legs about as if doing snow angels on the dusty concrete floor. He is fighting through second-day heroin withdrawal.

“We all felt like this when we came,” says his roommate, Khairullah.

An elderly man falls from his bunk at the drug treatment centre in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Photograph: Andrew Quilty

Afghanistan is the world’s leading producer of opium and heroin. This year, its opium production hit a new record high, rising 87% compared to 2016, according to statistics from the UN. The increase is largely due to a rapid expansion of territory used to cultivate poppy, following advances by the Taliban who both promote and profit from the crop.

Its production leaves behind a trail of addiction. Although most drugs are smuggled abroad, there are between 1.3 million and 1.6 million drug users in Afghanistan, the UN estimates.

Treatment, though, is poor. In Helmand, where half the country’s poppies grow and where unemployment and poverty perpetuate the temptation of readily available drugs, the government offers only 70 spots at two rehabilitation clinics.

“This is a chronic disease, just like cancer,” says Dr Ajmal Fazli, director of a 20-bed clinic.

The treatment on offer is 40 days of cold turkey. Emotional comfort is found in a sort of brotherhood of fellow addicts. The sole entertainment is a small television in front of two plastic chairs.

Patients are men at the fringe of society: scrawny teenage dropouts, rugged old men and, when the Guardian visited, a young man whose family had arranged his marriage, then postponed it for six years so far, until he gets clean.

Some sport crude tattoos – a rarity in conservative Islamic societies – after stints in prison.

“My brother once had me arrested to help me get clean,” says Juma Khan, rolling up his sleeve to unveil an inked snake and a heart. But jail could not break 10 years of addiction.

Helmand has no clinics for addicted women, although their numbers are said to be growing. A small team of female outreach workers comb through Lashkar Gah’s parks, among throngs of male addicts and drug dealers, looking for women.

“We are afraid of going there. We wear doctors’ clothes, and tell them we are there to talk about vaccines for their children. When we sit down with them, we ask about their drug problems,” said Latifa, a social worker. Her team distributes painkillers and supervises addicts at home for 40 days.

But recently, the ministry of public health told her clinic to halve the number of women it targets to 10, supposedly due to limited resources.

Late one afternoon, on the edge of a mosquito-infested swamp about a mile from the Lashkar Gah clinics, two dozen men sit hunched over pipes, heating crumbled pieces of tin foil with heroin worth about 50p each. In the 45-degree heat, the stench of garbage and urine is oppressive.

Opium addicts gather to smoke by a wall in a public park in Lashkar Gah. Photograph: Andrew Quilty

One man, Hamid Kabiri, was once a member of the police special forces, but now spends his days in the park smoking. His wife has moved in with his father.

Despite $8.6bn (£6.5bn) spent by the US alone since 2001 to fight Afghan opium, the drug business continues to grow. The value of Afghan-produced opiates doubled last year, from $1.56bn in 2015 to $3.02bn, according to the UN. The hub of the trade is Helmand.

Foreign-funded eradication programs have now been all but disbanded. A $14.6m “food zone” project funded by the US and UK to distribute fertiliser and seeds to farmers ended years ago. Nearly all attempts to introduce alternative crops have failed.

Drug seizures are equally inefficient. In the past decade, authorities confiscated about 450,000kg of opium – less than 10% of the 4.8m kilos of opium produced in 2016 alone, according to the UN.

At the Helmand treatment centre in Lashkar Gah, patients who are admitted either voluntarily or by family or tribal elders, undergo a 45 day treatment program. Photograph: Andrew Quilty

In 2001, the last year of its rule, the Taliban outlawed opium cultivation, but they have since reversed course. They now enjoy a growing share of the illicit business, partly due to territorial gains, which allow them to promote and tax poppy.

“Generally, the pattern is that areas under Taliban see more cultivation,” said Devashish Dhar, international project coordinator with the UN’s drug and crime agency, UNODC.

Farmers were extending poppy growth into the desert, he said, installing wells and discarding other, less lucrative crops.

David Mansfield, a researcher with the London School of Economics and the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, said satellite imagery showed areas in Helmand close to Lashkar Gah had reverted to growing poppy after years of being off the crop.

“The recent collapse of the government in some of the areas has allowed people to return to poppy,” he said. New technology such as solar panels accelerated cultivation by reducing costs of pumps and generators for irrigation, he added.

“The Taliban’s interest in poppy is often gaining support from the people, and it is a provocative act against the government. It’s a win-win,” said Mansfield.

Use of drugs, however, is not tolerated in Taliban territory and addicts are imprisoned. When Abdul Shakur, 32, was caught by Taliban fighters with drugs in his car in Babaji, they detained him and beat him with sticks for two months before he escaped, he says.

Detention did not cure Shakur. He was able to smuggle opium inside, and once it ran out he escaped. When he returned to his family, he agreed to admit himself in the government clinic. “It has to end,” he says. “I’d like to be a healthy man.”

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ON MIGRATION: More immigrants have temporary status than previously known

November 10, 2017, for The Boston Herald

Thousands more immigrants are living in Massachusetts under Temporary Protected Status than previously thought.

The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition says 12,326 people from 10 countries have the temporary authorization. Previous estimates pegged the population at around 8,000 residents.

The largest share hail from El Salvador (6,058) and Haiti (4,735). Massachusetts TPS holders also come from Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

President Donald Trump’s administration is reviewing the authorizations, which are generally granted to residents of nations struck by natural disasters and civil wars.

The administration has until Nov. 23 to decide whether to extend TPS for Haitians beyond the current Jan. 22 expiration.

MIRA says the updated figures were provided by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to U.S. Sen. Ed Markey’s office.

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ON THE MEDIA: The Trust Project brings news orgs and tech giants together to tag and surface high-quality news

, November 16, 2017, for Nieman Lab

“The hope is that, if news organizations are more clear and transparent about what they’re doing, then users can make their own decisions.”

Will readers trust the news more if they have more information about who’s behind it?

It’s worth a try. Thursday marks the launch of The Trust Project, an initiative three years in the making (but feeling oh-so-relevant right about now) that brings together news outlets such as The Washington Post, The Economist, and the Globe and Mail, as well as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Bing, in a commitment to “provide clarity on the [news organizations’] ethics and other standards, the journalists’ backgrounds, and how they do their work.” The project will standardize this method of increased clarity so that news organizations, large and small, around the world can use it, and so that the algorithms of the tech giants can find and incorporate it.

“The public can look at this and say, ‘okay, I know more about what’s behind this organization’,” said Sally Lehrman, senior director of journalism ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University and the creator of the project, which is funded by the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund, Google, the Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Markkula Foundation. “Hopefully, it will pull back the curtain on some of our practices as journalists, which, in fact, a lot of people don’t know about. And this lack of transparency is partly what creates a sense of suspicion.”

A team of representatives from dozens of media companies worldwidecame up with eight “core indicators”:

— Best Practices: What Are Your Standards? Who funds the news outlet? What is the outlet’s mission? Plus commitments to ethics, diverse voices, accuracy, making corrections and other standards.
— Author Expertise: Who Reported This? Details about the journalist who wrote the story, including expertise and other stories they have worked on.
— Type of Work: What Is This? Labels to distinguish opinion, analysis and advertiser (or sponsored) content from news reports.
— Citations and References: For investigative or in-depth stories, greater access to the sources behind the facts and assertions.
— Methods: Also for in-depth stories, information about why reporters chose to pursue a
story and how they went about the process.
— Locally Sourced? Lets people know when the story has local origin or expertise.
— Diverse Voices: A newsroom’s efforts to bring in diverse perspectives.
— Actionable Feedback: A newsroom’s efforts to engage the public’s help in setting coverage priorities, contributing to the reporting process, ensuring accuracy and other areas.

“Think along the lines of a nutrition label on a package of food, or a lab report that conveys your health status when you go in for a checkup,” Lehrman wrote in a post on TheAtlantic.com earlier this year. The Trust Project worked with Schema.org to create a standardized technical language for the tags so that tech sites can incorporate them.

The first wave of publishers going live with the Trust Indicators includes The Washington Post, Mic, The Independent Journal Review, The Globe and Mail, The Economist, Trinity Mirror, The German Press Agency dpa, and Italy’s La Repubblica and La Stampa. Lehrman sought out these organizations to be first because “those are ones I knew had the technical capabilities to be the demonstrations. I also aimed to experiment with how this would work across different types of media.” The integration of the standard is a heavy technical lift; it needs to be incorporated into publishers’ CMSes and site code. You can check out this Trello board for links to how the Indicators are being incorporated onto various parts of participating publishers’ sites, from “About” pages to author bios to citations and references. And here’s a mockup of an article that contains all of the Indicators.

The second wave will probably include a similar number of publishers. The Trust Project also worked with the Institute for Nonprofit News to develop a WordPress plugin that allows qualified publishers to incorporate the indicators into their sites. Eventually, the project will begin scaling more ambitiously. “The costs will lessen over time,” said Lehrman. “I’m thinking a lot about how to ease the path for newsrooms that don’t have the kinds of resources that this first phase of newsrooms does.”

There are also, of course, the tech companies. Facebook, Google, Bing, and Twitter partnered with The Trust Project early on, and will be incorporating the Trust Indicators into their products in various ways. Partnering with The Trust Project since its conception has been important to Google, in large part because “we believe the indicators can help our algorithms better understand authoritative journalism — and help us to better surface it to consumers,” said Richard Gingras, VP of news products at Google, in a statement. “We hope to use the Type of Work indicator to improve the accuracy of article labels in Google News, and indicators such as Best Practices and Author Info in our Knowledge Panels.”

Facebook, meanwhile, will be displaying the Trust Indicators via the article context feature it launched in October.

For now, the tech giants’ buy-in appears experimental and limited. Nobody is saying that they’ll favor Trust Project partners in their algorithms or anything like that. “You’re not going to see sudden changes with the algorithm,” Lehrman said.

The Trust Project is explicitly nonpartisan. The Independent Journal Review is the most conservative launch partner, but overall, the project is meant to be a consortium of “news organizations that adhere to traditional standards,” Lehrman said. “The idea is that news organizations are providing information about how they go about their work, who funds them, and what their mission is in terms of coverage. The hope is that, if news organizations are more clear and transparent about what they’re doing, then users can make their own decisions.”

There are bound to be naysayers, “fake news” criers, and both readers and sites that regard the appearance of the Trust Project’s logo as, in fact, a sign that an outlet should not be trusted. But Lerhman believes that, over time, the project will make inroads among readers. The Center for Media Engagement (formerly the Engaging News Project) at The University of Texas, Austin, has been testing news consumers’ reaction to the Trust Indicators over the past few months, and though the full results haven’t yet been released, “the Trust Indicators did create a statistically significant shift in attitude about whether the site was trustworthy,” Lehrman said.

“I am confident that, over time, this will start to build,” she added. “The Trust Project provides a strong sense of how journalism is distinct from other kinds of information. These [participating] organizations are independent. They don’t want to be controlled. But they are saying this is a situation where they want to band together to respond to the public need.”

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AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: Street art in Afghanistan targets corruption and hate

By , November 17, 2017, for PBS

Murals are popping up in and around Kabul, aimed at getting people to think about what’s possible.

ArtLords, based in the Afghan capital, grew from a small group of artists and volunteers who wanted to share — in vivid color — the community’s desire to move from war to peace.

It was 2014, and the band of friends noticed that the government and international community were making most of the decisions for Afghans, said Lima Ahmad, one of the original members.

“We wanted to give a voice to the people of Afghanistan who do not have much of a say in what is happening, but they are the most who are suffering — the young people,” she said. In a population of 34 million, about 63 percent are under the age of 25, according to the CIA Factbook.

“We have been in such a miserable situation now for more than 40 years. I was born in that kind of situation — war, corruption, civil conflict, ethnic conflict,” said Ahmad. “We have to have a say in how we run the country.”

Street art offered a way to express their concerns and advocate for change in a non-violent way.

The group, co-founded and run by Omaid Sharifi and Kabir Mokamel, embarked on an “I see you” anti-corruption campaign, said Ahmad, who is currently studying international security and conflict resolution at a graduate school in Boston.

The team arrives at a site at night and with the use of a projector, traces the design on a wall. During the day, they fill in the drawing with paint. As people walk by, the artists explain what they’re doing and answer questions about the subject matter.

“Kabul has a security wall around the city, and (the murals are) a way of converting it with colorful messages,” said Ahmad. “We are putting up messages that can make people think.”

In addition to anti-corruption, the murals depict themes of women’s rights and anti-terrorism. One painting honors those killed in a bomb blast that targeted a funeral procession on June 3.

Since 2001, after the Taliban fell, women began going to school and taking part in public activities. They also began reporting more street harassment, said Ahmad. “It has become now kind of a cultural thing, so this was one of the things we wanted to work on as an issue.”

In order to raise awareness and squash the harassment, the group targeted university campuses, where men and women both attended school, to paint their messages about gender equality. “They should be aware of how much it has become a part of our society. We have anti-harassment and women-protection laws, but I think it’s more of a behavior change,” she said.

In general, people accept the art, especially when they learn it’s not commissioned by the international community, said Ahmad. “We’re not bringing something from outside. It’s a local phenomenon, whether it’s corruption or terrorism. These are things that are present in their lives.”

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HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: How Trump can be Haiti’s ‘champion’

 November 9, 2017, for The Washington Post

Children hold signs in support of renewing temporary protected status for immigrants from Central America and Haiti. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

AS A CANDIDATE for president last year, Donald Trump felt Haiti’s pain. Campaigning in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, Mr. Trump recounted the ravages visited by the devastating 2010 earthquake on the hemisphere’s most destitute country and concluded , “Whether you vote for me or don’t vote for me, I really want to be your greatest champion, and I will be your champion.”

Now is the moment for Mr. Trump’s administration to make good on that promise. It faces a stark choice with enormous repercussions: whether to grant another extension for some 50,000 Haitians living legally in the United States, or to expel them, a decision that would be devastating not just for thousands of screened, law-abiding migrants and their 27,000 U.S.-born children but also for Haiti itself, whose economy is heavily dependent on the remittances they send home.

The Haitians in question, some of whom have lived in the United States since at least before the 2010 earthquake, and for 13 years on average, were granted permission to stay under a U.S. government humanitarian program known as temporary protected status. After several renewals under the Obama administration, hard-liners in the Trump administration are pressing to revoke TPS for the Haitians, having already done so for several other nations, including some who had lived in the United States even longer. Their current status expires in January; a decision from the Department of Homeland Security on granting them an extension is expected by Nov. 23.

Haiti is extraordinarily ill-equipped to absorb 50,000 people arriving on its shores, most of whom would need jobs, shelter and a variety of government services, including education and health care. No country in the Americas is as dependent on remittances as Haiti, and the losses it would sustain if TPS were revoked for the 50,000 Haitians in the United States would be a severe blow.

True, the word “temporary” in “temporary protected status” should mean something; no one is proposing granting the Haitians permanent legal residence, let alone citizenship. But as Mr. Trump seemed to grasp, Haiti is an especially needy case. And the idea of the hemisphere’s richest country intentionally imposing sudden and significant economic hardship on the poorest is not just anathema to the United States’ idea of itself as a great and compassionate nation. It’s also gratuitously cruel. Why would the United States, whose nominal per capita gross domestic product is more than $57,000, seek such suffering in Haiti, whose per capita GDP is $740?

It cannot be because Haitians represent a burden to the United States. Nearly all speak English; 80 percent are employed; nearly three-quarters have completed high school; and more than a third have studied in or completed college.

A great nation that wants to remain great, and to be seen as such, understands that its prestige and stature are diminished if it disregards the well-being of weak, dependent and friendly neighbors. Haiti is a test of the proposition that a great nation, as Mr. Trump seemed to understand, must sometimes be the “champion” of a weak one.

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AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: Top US general in Afghanistan: No change in Pakistan’s behavior

By Ryan Browne, November 9th, 2017, for CNN

The commander of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, US Army Gen. John Nicholson, said Thursday that Pakistan had not changed its behavior since President Donald Trump announced his new policy for Afghanistan and the wider region, a policy that specifically called on Pakistan to do more.

“No, I haven’t seen any change yet in their behavior,” Nicholson told reporters following a meeting of the NATO defense ministers in Brussels when asked whether he had seen any increased cooperation from Pakistan with regards to eliminating Taliban sanctuaries.
“You’ve heard the public statements from President Trump, from (Defense Secretary James) Mattis, from (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford) from (Secretary of State Rex) Tillerson, so we are engaging at the very highest levels with the Pakistanis to work together with them against these terrorists that are undermining the stability of the entire region,” Nicholson added.
“Pakistan has fought hard and suffered heavily against those terrorists focused on its government and now we are asking them to focus on the terrorists that are attacking Afghanistan and attacking the coalition,”
“The United States has been very clear about the direction we want to go and we hope to see some change in the coming weeks and months.”
Mattis told reporters at the ministerial meeting Thursday that the Trump administration was enlisting the international community to help encourage Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban via a series of incentives and disincentives.
“Obviously, there are ways we can reward Pakistan and there are ways we can ensure they are held to account,” Mattis said.
“We are going to work with Pakistan and make this work,” he added.
Last month, Trump praised Pakistan for its role in helping recover US citizen Caitlan Coleman and her family who had been held by the Haqqani network, a branch of the Taliban.
“The Pakistani government’s cooperation is a sign that it is honoring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region,” Trump said following their recovery.
Earlier on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that 27 non-US members of the coalition in Afghanistan had committed to increase their troop numbers in Afghanistan to help train and advise the Afghan security services.
The plan is to increase the size of the NATO mission in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 16,000 Stoltenberg said, with the goal of having half of those forces come from countries other than the US.
These reinforcements will join the approximately 3,000 additional US troops that were ordered to Afghanistan as part of Trump’s new strategy. Those US troops will support both the NATO mission and a US counterterrorism mission. The US currently has about 14,000 troops in the country alongside approximately 6,000 from other nations.
But despite those additional allied contributions, US military commanders said this week that the coalition still needed more troops to help train and advise the Afghan security forces.
US commanders are specifically looking for allies to provide troops to help train Afghans in their officer academies and military specialization schools, freeing US troops to go out into the field and advise Afghan soldiers at the brigade and battalion levels, where the US advisers can provide support and call in airstrikes to assist Afghan forces on the front line.
“We need the allies to fill these billets and especially things like the schooling system so that Americans can do the things that only Americans can do,” Nicholson told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the new authorities and troops allowing US forces to advise closer to the fight.
But while US military officials acknowledge that pledges from allies fell short of the stated requirement they also said that efforts are ongoing to increase the number of allied commitments, expressing optimism that countries will provide more forces in the near future.
Some countries will require parliamentary approval for any troop increase, delaying a possible decision on additional military commitments.
“It’s not a done deal yet, we are still talking to nations,” Gen. Curtis Scaparotti, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander-Europe, told a group of reporters on the sidelines of the ministerial meeting.
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ON THE MEDIA: Newsonomics: A call to arms (and wallets) in the new era of deregulation and bigger media

, November 16, 2017, for NeimanLab

 

First Sinclair and now the Kochs are back. In an age of media free-for-all and massive deregulation, will fact-based journalism become an endangered species?

Quibble, if you will, about the level of degeneracy now afoot in the heart of the Old and New Confederacy, as the Roy Moore saga provides yet more sick drama in the country.

That’s a sideshow. What’s quickly appearing on the main stage — if it’s still behind the curtain for now — is the beginning of a likely massive movement in news media ownership. You think you’ve seen a politicization of the press? The 2016 election may serve as just its preamble.

We’re on the brink — witness several actions this week alone — of a small number of right-leaning companies rapidly buying up, or buying into, the assets of journalism companies. In so doing, the alt-right “fake news” assault may move into a much more insidious phase, as long-trusted brands could take their marching orders from those who believe “fact” is fungible, in service of their political and business goals.

“Media madness,” former Federal Communications Commission member Michael Copps called it Wednesday, as 15 Democratic senators called for a new federal investigation of the FCC’s rush to deregulate broadcast media in America.

Their immediate target: Today’s FCC meeting, as current FCC chairman Ajit Pai speeds up his blitzkrieg assault on the decades-old regulatory rules aimed at maintaining a diverse, many-voiced, widely owned free press. Soon to be repealed: several regulations that have prohibited domination of broadcast news media by a few companies and one that has long forbid the joint ownership of a major newspaper and a major TV broadcaster in the same market. [Update: On Thursday afternoon, the FCC indeed voted to repeal the regulations preventing broadcasters from owning newspapers in the same market.]

While Pai and his confederates pose superficially plausible arguments about how digital media has changed everything, their goals are more prosaic. Sinclair Broadcasting figures to become the first big winner of the new era. Although it’s opposed by a good mix of critics — from the stalwart Free Press group to Newsmax’s Chris Ruddy to Glenn Beck to the Dish Network, Public Knowledge, and Common Cause — Sinclair stands a good chance of soon becoming the largest regional broadcaster. How big? If it is allowed to complete its acquisition of Tribune Media (which some will recall cashed out a good chunk of the newspaper industry–built digital classifieds business and then most of the real estate and buildings associated with the former Tribune, now Tronc, newspapers), Sinclair will own 233 TV stations across the country, including the 42 gained in the Tribune sale. That’s a reach into 72 percent of U.S. households. Before the in-progress de-regulation, companies were capped at 39 percent.

Look no further than the coverage of the Roy Moore story to get a glimpse of the future in detail. In “How Sinclair compromised the news on an Alabama station it owns to support Roy Moore,” Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik traced the chain of slanted reporting. It began with Sinclair-owned WBMA, which reported that all its sources (from three interviews) believed the good judge and not The Washington Post.

Then Breitbart picked up that report, giving its journalism even wider distribution and its own brand of certification. It’s hard to quickly assess how WBMA and other Sinclair owned stations have covered the Moore story. What we do know is that Sinclair, privately owned and led by chairman David D. Smith and CEO Christopher Ripley, makes no secret of its alt-right enthusiasms. It has mandated nationally produced must-carry editorials, some of them so fact-challenged as to provide ample satiric fodder for John Oliver. 6,356,541 people, as of this writing, had watched that 20-minute Oliver segment, but it’s unclear how much of a difference that makes. (On the other hand, let’s recognize the dogged work of Advance Publications’ Al.com tracking the real story of Roy Moore’s behavior in Gadsden in the 1970s and eighties.)

Sinclair’s approval appears to be in the final stages, though it’s unclear how the heightening opposition will affect that. It may be the first of ever-bigger deals done for political as well as business reasons. As former FCC commissioner Copps told Deadline.com Wednesday, “[It’s] the nadir of the FCC’s credibility as a protector of the public interest. We shouldn’t just be focused on one merger. There are going to be a lot more after that. It’s a flashing green light, greener than any before it.”

While broadcast takes center ring here, pay attention to the rest of the circus.

On Wednesday, the aspirational media mogul Koch Brothers blazed their way back into media ownership consciousness. As The New York Times reported, the brothers are backing a bid to buy Time Inc. With an injection of $500 million, magazine publisher Meredith looks as if it will finally be able to close its pursuit of Time Inc., perhaps putting that company out of its two-decades-old transition woes. The Kochs came close to beating Michael Ferro to the Tribune Publishing punch three years ago; only odd circumstance and pressure on one of Tribune’s then-major owners, Oaktree Capital Management, and on its co-chairman Bruce Karsh, prevented that deal.

In 2013, the Kochs came close to owning The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Hartford Courant, Florida’s Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel and Baltimore Sun. (Presumably, if they had made the acquisition, David Zurawik wouldn’t be writing his critical columns for the Sun, and then often taking his viewpoint to Brian Stelter’s Sunday morning Reliable Sources.)

As the Times’ Dealbook put it, “It is not clear how much influence — if any — the Kochs would have on a Meredith-owned Time Inc. if the deal were to go through.” The Kochs have never been shy about mixing business and politics, and they’ll be — with long-standing publisher Meredith a curious intermediary — close to such titles as Time Magazine, Fortune and Money.

How might they use that influence? How might Sinclair double down on its own advocacy after it wins the approvals it needs? Who else may come along — with enough money to freely mix business and politics? Inevitably, Rupert Murdoch’s name reappears. Just a week after it was reported that his 21st Century Fox was in talks to sell substantial film and TV cable assets to Disney, his name has popped up again as a would-be buyer.

Could it have been the never-say-die 86-year-old news magnate of our time who whispered AT&T sweet nothings in President Trump’s ear, moving him to both tweet concern about media consolidation and to see his recent pick for Department of Justice Antitrust chief reverse himself and object to AT&T’s buy of Time Warner, including, most significantly to our points, CNN? Yet it’s also been reported that Murdoch has been a would-be buyerof CNN? The regulatory apparatus, or the dismantling of one, only serves as another means to a business end for Murdoch. Yes, imagine it: Some kind of Fox/CNN tie-up of money, distribution and, of course, working the political angles of the day.

Who may be a first mover if Ajit Pai is successful in letting big broadcasters buy up as many of the country’s TV stations as they want and add big metro newspapers to their consolidated operations? Rupert Murdoch would have to be high on that list. And again, the L.A. Times, the center of so much intrigue throughout its ownership-challenged decade, plays a part. In 2012, Murdoch, too, wanted to buy the L.A. Times. But he was stymied by the cross-ownership rules that meant he’d had to sell highly profitable L.A. stations in order to buy the Times. Now, if the FCC changes stick, Murdoch may be a key player in the broadcast/press roll-up.

This brings up the inevitable question: where are the other names? Wasn’t George Soros supposed to be the master of progressive conspiracies? We’ve seen people like Jeff Bezos (Washington Post), John Henry (Boston), Glen Taylor (Minneapolis) and the Huntsmans (Salt Lake), among others, step forward and return degrees of reinvestment and stability to important metro dailies. Now, when it looks as if many more assets can be bought — and combined, with TV broadcast assets looking richer in a print-decimated world — who else will step forward?

It will take confidence, courage, and money, to confront the new reality. Free Press and others are likely to contest FCC changes in the courts, but that may only be a delaying action. It’s best, perhaps, to contest this war of free press in the marketplace as well. This week, I raised the question of who might buy CNN if the global TV news giant (and leader of the digital news audience pack) comes up for sale. Though, AT&TT CEO Randall Stephenson has proclaimed his willingness to litigate DOJ’s objection to the breadth of his Time Warner buy, time — and offers — may persuade him to sell off CNN.

The gravity of such a sale is clear. I’d argue that CNN has served as a fact-seeking bulwark against the alt-right, in the company of the Times and Post in aggressively covering and uncovering truths and lies. Imagine if it morphed into something else. (In fact, AT&T’s own standing has quickly morphed, given the crazy times: It has moved from being a perhaps poor steward of CNN to a politically aggrieved party in the mess. On Monday, L.A. Times columnist Michael Hiltzik laid out concerns about the AT&T/Time Warner deal.

On Tuesday, Axios’ Jim VandeHei linked the rise of Newt Gingrich’s weaponized politics to John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin as VP to the “algorithm-ized rage” of Facebook. “Fox News, created in 1996, televised and monetized this hard-edged combat politics. This created the template for MSNBC to do the same on the left, giving both sides a place to fuel and fund rage 24/7. CNN soon went all politics, all day, making governance a show in need of drama,” he wrote. The Fox point is a good one, but underestimates Fox’s — and Murdoch’s influence — on our current politics.

Before Fox — the Americanized version of downmarket British tabloids that blur fact and fictions — such “journalism” was reserved for a place at the supermarket checkout. Most people knew that the category of Enquirers and Stars were not to be taken seriously. Fox News changed that by looking like TV news, its production values and Roger Ailes’ wiles revolutionizing reality. In 2017, we’re up to competing realities. What about 2027?

In the Trump administration’s ongoing teardown of regulation — from health to environment to education — incalculable damage grows. Its media deregulation could have a great deal of impact. I’ve written, here at the Lab, about the likely impacts of news deserts on the 2016 election. As we approach 2018, that desertification only grows. Print advertising losses of 15 percent or more will mean hundreds of fewer journalists working next year. The FCC’s cry for digital freedom is likely a smokescreen. The likely convergence in the TV/local newspaper property combos to come will likely be convergences of costs and less reporting. Cost savings are a top priority for companies eyeingsuch consolidations. But this deregulation could put more money into the pockets of those who already have a lot of it.

Last week, when I spoke with New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, he recalled his awakening to the value of journalism in a democratic society:

My story of becoming a journalist — I was born in 1957, so at the age of 14 or 15, I was completely engrossed by American politics and Watergate. In England, by the way, where I couldn’t see any American newspapers. But hearing at one or two removes about the work being done by The New York Times and The Washington Post in uncovering Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and so forth. It’s a matter of honest astonishment that 45 years, 46 years later, it’s the same brands.

It is an astonishment. About 2,000 journalists, in total, power those two institutions. Although their work this year will prove historic, it’s not enough. We need journalists working freely in the pursuit of fact all over the country, in whatever “print” and “TV” become.

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