Pumping Oil Through a Pipe

20 04 2011

The United States Department of State issued a revised proposal for the expansion of the Keystone Pipeline, which transports crude oil from Canada to Oklahoma and Illinois, on April 15. This expansion project aims to transport oil from Alberta, Canada to states in the Gulf of Mexico for refinery.  The builder, TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, LP, applied to the Department of State for a Presidential permit to go forth with the construction. The opinions on this expansion are varying and there is some controversy and backlash surrounding this issue from environmentalists, congress members, and citizens

An NPR article by the Charles Drevna, President of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, highlights the positive effects of this expansion including less foreign dependence on oil and an economic growth with the creation of jobs and businesses. Mr. Drevna’s main argument for the pipeline expansion is of national security and using energy from a trusted partner nation. One of Canada’s largest broadcasters, CTV, quotes Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. He plays into American sentiments on the bad economy and high unemployment rate by saying the expanded pipeline will increase opportunities by employing upwards of 900 hundred different companies. As the article goes on, he reminds U.S. citizens that Canada is a huge economic supporter to our country with high tourism and trading levels and that U.S. political leaders should respect and treat the nation to the north as such.

On the contrary, a blog post from the National Resources Defense Council delves into the issues that this revised report neglects. These issues include lack of time for comments and analysis, contradiction of Obama’s clean energy promise, rerouting and safety of the pipe, and green house gas emissions. The author cites a report compiled by four environmental non-government agencies which criticizes the entire plan from concerns like the consumption of water and toxic waste produced, to reasons why it will not help U.S. energy security. It is an in-depth booklet for concerned citizens to review and is very persuasive.

Earth Day, April 22, kicks off the start of a 45 day open forum for citizens to submit concerns about this project.  On the website, the State Department has listed issues of concern such as air quality, pipeline abandonment, and natural environmental effects. After this 45 day period, government agencies will have the option to reply to the plan and suggest advice. The State Department will decide on the issuing of a permit by the end of 2011.


Keeping the Peace?

19 04 2011

Following in its neighbors’ Egyptian and Tunisian footsteps, Libya has revolted. On April 18th, Assistant Secretary Phillip Gordon held a briefing with a question and answer session about Secretary Clinton’s trip to Berlin, Germany, for a NATO Ministerial Summit to discuss the situation in northern Africa. This meeting included 28 allied nations and 6 partners against the Muammar el-Quaddafi’s regime and NATO’s attempts to help establish a democracy and protect the innocent civilians.

Mr. Gordon explained the attendees discussed many international affairs; however, much of the attention was centered on the uprising and civil war in Libya. He spoke about the guidance on political, economic, and military actions from the established set of leaders that form the Contact Group. Specifically, the Assistant Secretary emphasized NATO’s pressure in Libya will not be abandoned until its main goals are met. These include: defending civilians against attacks and threats from Quaddafi’s forces, pushing theses forces out of forcibly occupied cities, and aiding citizens with humanitarian efforts.

Much of the coverage in the past few weeks talks about a stalemate in the fighting, humanitarian rights, division and hesitation within NATO, and sending troops into the country.

Specifically, this Los Angele’s Times article describes the unorganized troops and the unwillingness to back down. It quotes a retired U.S military man who says NATO did not have a strategy when it entered Libya and is now suffering the consequences. The article mentions the United State’s reluctance to fully enter into combat and suggests this non-action will cause other powerful nations not to take action as well. In an Associated Press article, President Biden even said the U.S. needed to concentrate its resources elsewhere.

Another major issue covered in the press is humanitarian aid and rights. In a critical blog post by a guardian.co.uk journalist, Simon Jenkins condemns the Prime Minister of the U.K David Cameron and the hypocritical actions of his country. He also hints the UN is violating their own rules because they are involved by bombing but their first priority should be helping the refugees rather than contributing to the civil war.

The U.N is divided on issues and this disparity has hampered confidence and foreign security.   An article from The New York Times talks about the disagreement over Libya’s no fly zone and airstrikes, as well as the France’s aspirations and its role as a leader. There are many arguments for and against sending troop “advisors” to help the rebels fight the regime. A Time article asks the great question, “Why does NATO exist?” because it seems to be crossing its border line as peaceful organization.

These issues and many more have created tension throughout Europe and between allied countries. Tensions, along with the death toll are mounting, and hopefully some productive progress will be made after the rebels receive more support.

Issues on the Ivory Coast

12 04 2011

For four long months, Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power to the newly elected president, Alassane Ouattara. The United Nations approved the election in November 2011 and Ouattara won by 54%. However, Gbagbo claimed the results were manipulated, gathered his forces, and began fighting for power. The roots of Gbagbo’s anger may stem from the unsettled political, religious, and economic issues from the civil war of 2002. Nevertheless, Gbagbo’s troops pillaged villages, took control of major cities, murdered and raped citizens, and seized the cocoa export industry.

On April 9, 2011, the Department of State issued a press statement, heavily reprimanding Gbagbo’s actions, and calling his attempt at negotiations a “ruse” to establish a plan of action. The release mentions twice that he was not legally elected president and that he should respect the citizens of the Cote de’Ivoire.

As of yesterday, after months of fighting and upheaval and with the help of France, the 10 year ruler of the Ivory Coast was arrested. In the daily briefing, the Acting Deputy Department Spokesman, Mr. Mark Toner, demands that Gbagbo is held accountable for his horrendous actions and stresses a peaceful, democratic transition.

The media has been constantly covering this issue for the entire four months.  In 2010 there was a wide spectrum of issues involving Gbagbo including: following the former President’s actions such as ordering the United Nations out of the Ivory Coast, his refusal to leave from power, tracking the movements of his militants, pressure of a strike in the cocoa industry, and human rights violations.

In 2011, the press coverage the issue much more as violence mounted.  Mainstream media covered the issues in print, broadcast, radio, and social media forms.  Articles were written about the involvement of France and a call for more sanctions, the Ivory Coast’s colonial power, the protection and decisions of the rightful President Ouattara, the growing number of exiles and dead, and the fear of a complete civil war.

At last, the end to this bloody issue is in sight with the arrest of Laurent Gbagbo and the assumption of power by Alassane Ouattara.  As African countries and the European Union come together to help the country, we can only hope a peaceful democracy is restored. 

Disaster in Japan

6 04 2011

On March 11, 2011, one of the most powerful earthquakes in history, with an 8.9 magnitude, hit the northeast corner of Japan. Immediately after, a tsunami destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses, with more than 12,000 dead and still thousands missing.

The same day, the State Department held a teleconference with journalists. The Department made it clear that their main priority was the safety of American citizens in Japan and their evacuation if needed. The secretaries focused on the ways in which to submit information if one was concerned about a loved one. Reporters asked about the US Embassy and the workings of the American governments with the Japanese government.

Throughout the past month, in light of the reaction of the tsunami’s affects on the nuclear energy in Japan, the State Department has published many more informative documents in relation to this incident. Some of these papers include travel alerts with fact sheets and question and answers, economic implications for the United States, Japanese-American relationship issues, and technical aspects of the disaster.

Media outlets are still publishing stories about Japan, due to great economic, social, and environmental effects. There are hundreds of articles published daily.  Just on Google News today, there are over 40,000 publications. In the beginning, news coverage consisted of accounting the hard facts of the earthquake magnitude, tsunami height, number of citizens missing, and personal stories, such as this article from The NY Times. BBC had published an article from their interactive website, where users in the affected regions could post their stories. Then, in light of the nuclear crisis, outlets started reporting on radiation and the effects on humans and the environment.  Others, such as Reuters, started reporting on the impacts on the economy and the global stock market. Finally, a major story today on CNN is the drop in Japan’s level of radiation in seawater.

This crisis was also covered extensively in the blogosphere, television, and social media. I especially liked this personal one from an American journalist living in Japan and this one, relating the disaster to the American car industry.  There are also countless efforts among companies, celebrities, and nonprofit organizations to raise awareness and money for Japan by buying a products and donating. Although there is some speculation about certain efforts because Japan is a wealthy country (in contrast to the efforts made after the earthquake in Haiti, a third world country.)

The media covered, and is still covering this issue in all forms. From blogs, articles, videos, and photographs, we will not forget the crisis in Japan and all those affected by it, anytime soon.

Deputy Secretary Leaving for Syracuse

31 03 2011

I recently wrote a post on the resignation of the office’s main speaker, P.J. Crowley. As of today, Secretary Clinton’s right hand man, James Steinberg, is stepping down from Deputy Secretary of State. The news broke today, although I am not sure how. As of 7:15 this evening, nothing had been posted on the official website of the department.

I find this very interesting. There are many articles published in the main stream media but the office has remained numb. At 10:30 p.m., I read  the transcript of the announcement made by Mark Toner, the Acting Deputy Secretary, and it is time stamped at 1:50 p.m. It is a very short statement about the Deputy Secretary leaving to be a Dean at Syracuse University. There is no in-depth information about why he is leaving or when the decision was made. Rather, it states he was there for a little over two years and is going to teach. I got the impression that Toner’s succinct words emphasized Steinberg’s time in office and did not do his contribution to the department justice.

I was most informed through external sources in the media. Articles from The Washington Post and The New York Times speculate about Steinberg leaving, his rocky relationship with Clinton,  and his alignment with President Obama. They also say that Steinberg, when he began his position in the State Department, estimated his time there of 2 years and it has just been that long with the breaking of this news. An article from Foreign Policy mentions his temporary replacement and the search for a new Deputy, as well as his representation as a White House regular and his interest in eastern Asia. Finally, it actually inserted a copy of the email that Secretary Clinton wrote to the staffers about his contributions. Clinton praises Steinberg’s role in the office and as a top diplomat.

There were definitely more news articles than blogs. Some articles, like the NY Times one, were listed as a blog post but under a credible media source. This one from ABC News, just quotes Clinton’s email. What I found most interesting out of all these articles is that they were all written before 1:50 p.m.!

Funding Freedom in Tunisia

23 03 2011

Tunisia, as one of the first Middle Eastern countries to start a revolution this year, has been rewarded. On March 22, 2011, The U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) announced that it will fund a $20 million dollar project in Tunisia. This money will go toward the transition of their democratic government. Specifically, the MEPI has five objectives- to create a dependable and honest media outlet, set up an organization to promote education, improve political parties as well as a structure for future elections, and promote economic recovery. Local and international governments are involved in submitting proposals to draft a new constitution, launching presidential elections and found a supporting parliament. Nongovernmental agencies will receive grants, and, with assistance from Microsoft, will expand their sustainability efforts and coinciding projects of development.

This is a very recent announcement (yesterday), but it is so significant and I was surprised by the lack of coverage it has received. The mainstream news outlets such as MSNBC and The Washington Post have reported on this initiative, but have mainly stuck to the facts of the proposal. In comparison, the United Nations and Algeria have or will give $350 million dollars over three years and $100 million dollars respectively. So, the money from the U.S. is quite insignificant.

In contrast, I had to search for this news on CNN and The NY Times. CNN’s article doesn’t even mention the $20 million dollar project but highlights the beginning of the revolution. The NY Time’s Tunisia page hasn’t been updated since February 28, 2011. There was press speculation and coverage before announcing the initiative because Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country earlier this week. Many of the articles that I found relate more to that and her promise on behalf of the United States to help restore the country than the real task.

I must give credit to the smaller media outlets, such as News Channel10 for updating the local communities on this advancement.

There are a few reasons I believe that the press has not followed this issue as closely as it should. First, there have been a continuing stream of articles since December 2010 and the start of the Tunisian Revolution. Second, the press is currently focused on the similar situation happening right now in Libya. Third, there were the natural disasters and following nuclear radiation scare in Japan.

Punishment for Personal Opinion?

16 03 2011

After following the State Department and its messages for some time now, I have made myself knowledgeable of powerful people in the organization. Therefore, it is ironic that my post today concerns one of the top public relations secretaries of the State Department.

P.J. Crowley, the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, has resigned. Comments made while speaking to a small M.I.T. group in Boston sparked the resignation. When Crowley was asked about the Department of Defense’s holding of an alleged Wikileaks informant, Bradley Manning, and suspicion of torture, he called his colleagues’ actions, “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid.”  This doubt from a high official demonstrates just how sensitive a topic WikiLeaks is. Read more about the controversy in my earlier post.

All aspects of the media covered this issue. Mainstream media, global and local, mostly stuck to the facts and history of the incident, rather than opinion. They delved into Mr. Crowley’s history with the State Department and Bradley Manning’s role as an informant. In all of my research, I did not find an article that concurred with Crowley’s resignation. Most of the articles I read expressed strong opinions, such as this one from AllVoices and this one from The Boston Globe. They support Crowley’s statements and are angered by his resignation because he spoke of (what they believe) is the truth.

The blogosphere is the main channel of polarized viewpoints. Debates include human rights in relation to torture and humiliation, the assumption of innocence until proven guilty, and “uncomfortable truths.” Many journalists thanked and applauded Crowley for bringing this matter into the spotlight, such as The Economist, even though he risked his job and demonstrated divergence of opinions in government behind closed doors. Many people accused the White House and Obama Administration of pushing Mr. Crowley into resigning and question the President’s hypocritical standpoint on government transparency.

It should be noted that M.I.T affiliates that were present at the talk petitioned Secretary Clinton in a letter to voice their disappointment of Crowley’s resignation. Finally, I came across a journalist’s  blog post. Philippa Thomas attended the lecture herself when this incident occurred. She had the opportunity to ask if his comments were “on the record” and he replied yes. One can only imagine if he would still be working for the State Department if he had answered “No.”