October 8, 2014

We've Moved!

Our blog can now be found on our new website, here.    We hope to see you there!

August 18, 2014

Navigating Nicaragua: A Lesson In Getting Lost

A motorcyclist drives past a mural of revolutionary heroes in Managua, Nicaragua. Most streets in the country don't have names. People give directions by using reference points, mostly Lake Managua, when in the capital. Carrie Kahn/NPR

August 16, 2014
One of the most popular songs by the Irish band U2 is about a place where the streets have no names. That place could be Nicaragua, the small Central American nation where I just got back from a reporting trip.
While major boulevards and highways do have names in Nicaragua, and some buildings even have numbers, no one uses them. So if you are trying to get around or find an office building, let's say to interview someone, then you're in trouble.
The way to navigate Nicaragua, I quickly learned, is by reference points. When in the capital, most involve the lago, Lake Managua. Two blocks to the lake, then go three blocks south and one down. Lost? I was, constantly.
But I had help from my Nicaraguan producer, Dorisell Blanco, who thankfully also did all the driving. Her address: Start from the place where all the journalists live, head south to the entrance, go two blocks down, one to the south, two more down and then almost to the corner to the green wall.
That address is what's written on all the bills that come to her house and in the phone book. "God help her the day they paint that wall a different color than green ... everyone is going to get lost," Blanco says.
But people don't seem to get lost, and the mail and pizzas get delivered. The firemen also get to the fires, insists fire chief Francisco Reyes.
"We're all used to it ... so it's hard just for the out-of-towners," Reyes says. Though he admits he has received some odd directions. Once a dispatcher gave him the reference point, and then said from there go three blocks down and three blocks up. He was back where he started.
If that isn't mind-numbing enough, there are two more complicating factors when getting directions: the vara and what I call the donde fue. Vara is an old Spanish measurement that turns out, depending where you are in the world, is about a yard. People will tell you often to go two varas south and then one vara north. It's used interchangeably with a block, but a much shorter distance.
The donde fue direction, now, that's the toughest. That's a reference for something that used to be there. For example, the church that fell in the 1972 earthquake or a supermarket long closed, but everyone used to go to.
But here's the best part of the system: It works. That's because everyone helps out. Once you get close to your reference point, you start asking for directions. Everyone we ever asked was very willing to help. The direction discussion usually turned into a five-minute ordeal, not efficient at all, but always, always, extremely friendly.

August 13, 2014

Friendship Tours' student brings clean water to Rwanda

Clean water for all.

In January sixteen-year-old Cole Kawana joined a school trip to visit Network for Africa’s projects in Rwanda. But before he left Los Angeles he spent months researching the everyday challenges faced by people in developing countries. One of those stumbling blocks, Cole knew, was lack of access to clean water.

Cole demonstrates his water filters to Aspire staff and participants.
Cole found a potential solution: a water filter that could serve 100 people for up to five years, removing 99.9% of harmful bacteria. It uses no chemicals, and relies on gravity to force the unclean water through the filter. Each filter costs £30/$50, which works out as 50 cents for five years’ worth of clean water for each person.

Cole asked Network for Africa if he could run a pilot project with our partner Aspire in Kigali. Cole then raised enough money to buy twelve filters, and warned us to have dirty water and five-gallon buckets at the ready. Once Cole was in Rwanda his school group spent time at Aspire, watching the Aspire team as they taught local women about health, hygiene, nutrition, First Aid, and about their legal rights. He also saw women being trained in hairdressing and cookery.

When Cole’s moment came, dozens of people gathered around to watch as he demonstrated how to use the filters. It took only 20 minutes to turn dirty, cloudy water into clear water suitable for drinking. Cole then trained several members of the Aspire staff to use the filters, and they have since taken them to schools in the area. The filters were so popular that when he returned to California, Cole raised money for a further twelve filters, which were taken to Kigali by representatives of Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation.

Cole holds a jar of dirty water next to a jar of purified water.
Cole is now setting up his own non-profit, Clean Water Ambassadors. He intends to produce an online demonstration, with Skype tuition sessions on the proper maintenance of the filters. His ethos is not to spend money on postage or air travel: he will rely on people traveling to parts of the world where the water filters are needed, and connecting with local non-profits they already know.   Since his visit to Aspire earlier this year, Cole’s filters are now being used in Tanzania, Uganda, Belize and Fiji. Network for Africa is proud to have played a part in the birth of an smart solution to an age-old problem.

August 7, 2014

Nixon reframes Watergate scandal in rereleased 1983 interviews

President Nixon's farewell on Aug. 9, 1974, as he boards a helicopter at the White House. (Associated Press)

On the eve of Richard Nixon's resignation 40 years ago, he could hear protesters chanting outside the White House as he retired to the Lincoln Sitting Room to make calls.
The distant shouting reminded him of the height of the Vietnam War protests. "Except this time," he recalled during the more than 30 hours of interviews that he did with his former aide Frank Gannon in 1983, "the chant was 'Jail the Chief! Jail the Chief!'"

But the 37th president was unmoved. "It didn't bother me," he said, smiling in his conversation with Gannon nearly a decade later. "You know, after all, I'd been heckled by experts."
 Click here to view video

It was that brazen side of Nixon — impervious to criticism and casting himself as a victim even as he stepped down — that infuriated millions of Americans during what became a moment of national shame. Nixon's deception and abuse of executive power stunned the nation.
The Gannon-Nixon tapes, part of Nixon's post-presidency attempt to rehabilitate his reputation, are being rereleased this week for a new generation by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum and the Richard Nixon Foundation to mark the 40th anniversary of his resignation and the presidential scandal known as Watergate.
The clips in the series are appearing day by day through Saturday on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Sitting down with his longtime aide in a nonconfrontational setting — markedly different from the contentious Frost/Nixon interviews of 1977 — the former president frames one of the most famous political scandals in his own words.
The tapes are being billed by the library as revealing the former president's more emotional, candid and reflective side. They are at varying times maudlin, craven, emotional; even in 1983, Nixon appears to see himself as a man wronged, saying that he had resisted resigning because it would be an "admission of guilt" that would have set a bad example for future presidents.
While they do not provide new revelations about the Watergate affair, which began as a 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, they do provide intimate details of the Nixon family's last hours at the White House and a powerful leader's gradual submission to the politically inevitable.
The damning revelations of his involvement in the Watergate coverup by then were rolling into public view. He had lost the three votes he was counting on in the House Judiciary Committee to protect him from impeachment. Key supporters were abandoning him. And he could not bear the spectacle of going on trial before the Senate as "a crippled, half-time president."
But in Nixon's mind, he was still a victim, the tapes indicate. Even in those final White House days, he was still defiant about what had "happened" to him, basking in the adulation of loyal aides, and nurturing his lingering hesitation with a note left in his bedroom by his daughter Julie, who begged him to "go through the fire," noting that millions still supported him.

"I'm a fighter; I just didn't want to quit," Nixon said. "Also, I thought it would be an admission of guilt, which of course it was," he added. "And ... it would set a terribly bad precedent for the future."
But the damning tape of the "smoking gun" conversation, recorded in the Oval Office only a few days after the break-in and firmly establishing his knowledge of the burglary and coverup, "was the final blow, the final nail in the coffin. Although you didn't need another nail if you were already in the coffin, which we were."
Nixon recalled calling his family together and bringing with him a transcript of the tape to convince them he had to resign.
After his televised address to the nation on the night of Aug. 8, 1974, Nixon walked back to the residence with top advisor Henry Kissinger. "He said, 'Mr. President, history is going to record that you were a great president."
"I thought it would be an admission of guilt, which of course it was,” former President Nixon said in a 1983 interview of his reluctance to resign. (Raiford Communications)

Nixon's version of events is once again stirring debate among historians, some of whom say it represents a misleading view of a crucial chapter in American history. Watergate historian Stanley Kutler described the videos as a desperate attempt to "rewrite history" and said he had urged the library to create a more informative exhibit. "This was Nixon carefully programmed.... This was Nixon in the middle of his last campaign."
Nixon asserted, for example, that he had already made up his mind to resign before the incriminating "smoking gun" tape was revealed.
"That's not true," said Kutler, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "He was still trying that day to stay in office — and finally one Republican congressman after another told him he had to quit."
In Yorba Linda on Tuesday, there was no rush of visitors to see the excerpts on display, selected from the interviews and played in a loop in a darkened theater.
For much of the day, the theater was nearly empty as a few older couples and the occasional family trickled in to watch them. Many visitors seemed oblivious to the anniversary and said they did not know that the tapes were new. Some said they were too young to remember Nixon's resignation; others said they had become more fond of him over the years.
For 81-year-old Nancy Jerdee of Chandler, Ariz., there was not much new, but it brought back her sadness from that day. "I lived through all of that," she said, describing Nixon as a great president. "It was such a stupid thing to have to resign over.... Presidents have done a lot worse than that."
Nixon recalled that he did not sleep much the night before his last day in the White House. When he awoke, he realized that the battery had worn out on his watch — it had stopped at 4 p.m. on his last day as president. "By that time," he said, "I was worn out too."
Nixon recalled how he closed his eyes as he stepped aboard the helicopter for the last time. "I heard Mrs. Nixon speaking to no one in particular, but to everyone," he said. "It's so sad," he remembered her saying. "It's so sad."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

August 4, 2014

Cambodia Power-Sharing Deal Could Usher In Wider Democratic Reform

Last week, Cambodia’s ruling and opposition parties agreed to a power-sharing arrangement, bringing an end to a political crisis dating back to the country’s July 2013 general elections. The year-long standoff included an opposition boycott of parliament and mass protests that recently culminated in violent clashes and the arrest of seven opposition lawmakers-elect for charges of “leading an insurrection.”  

The opposition party, the National Rescue Party (CNRP), under the leadership of Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, had bitterly contested the results of last year’s polls, in which the National Election Committee (NEC) announced the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen as the winner. The opposition alleged massive electoral fraud and demanded an independent investigation, a new election, an overhaul of the NEC and, at times, the resignation of Hun Sen. The government suppressed CNRP-led protests and ultimately imposed a ban on public demonstrations, including the January closure of Freedom Park, a state-designated space for public protest that had become the opposition party’s symbolic rallying point for its democratic struggle. ...

By Briefing

August 1, 2014

Don’t Know Much About History

The architects of our foreign-policy disasters would prefer we simply forget the past.

Clockwise from top left: Elliott Abrams, Henry Kissinger, Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta; Reuteres/Pascal Lauener; Gage Skidmore CC2.0;
AP Photo/Richard Drew)

I recently happened to be in the audience for a discussion on the legacy of World War I, held at the Thompson/Reuters headquarters in New York City, when Henry Kissinger made an amazing observation: of the five major wars that the United States has fought since World War II, all were entered on behalf of “idealistic principles.” No less surprising to me was the fact that nobody else in the crowded room of media and policy bigwigs appeared to find anything odd about that statement. Given what we now know about the lies, deception and corruption that preceded the most catastrophic of these wars—Vietnam and the second Iraq War—to call them “idealistic” is to purposely evade history at best, or (more accurately) to rewrite it purely on the basis of ideology rather than evidence.
Now Kissinger, at 91, may be pretty old and famously amoral, but he is not senile and has never been stupid. He offered his blinkered version of recent events before a room full of knowledgeable people because he figured nobody really cared one way or another. After all, it was “history”—which, in contemporary American political culture, is another word for “irrelevant.” And it is this contempt for history, as the cliché correctly advises, that condemns our nation to continually repeat it. The circumstances may differ, but the pathology remains unchanged.
Neocons are surpremely aware of this tendency and exploit it to the fullest. In fact, most of their careers would be impossible without it. Would Elliott Abrams be able to mouth off as a respected Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, attacking Barack Obama in a recent Politico piece as “The Man Who Broke the Middle East,” if his patrons took the time to consider that Abrams both enabled and ran political interference for what the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice has deemed a genocidal dictatorship? (Abrams also got himself disbarred in the District of Columbia for his lies to Congress about these and other crimes in which he participated while serving in the Reagan administration, both before and after the Iran/Contra affair.) Should that stretch American memory muscles beyond their breaking point, how about the fact that this criminal, while serving on the National Security Council during Bush II, himself helped to “break” the Middle East by undermining the 2006 Palestinian elections, which helped lead to the creation of a Hamas-run rump state in Gaza in the first place? And yet he somehow gets away with the crazy claim that “the Middle East that Obama inherited in 2009 was largely at peace” in order to blame its alleged collapse on the current president. (Politico is, conveniently, the ground zero of American political ahistoricity: virtually everything it publishes occurred during the previous twenty-four hours and will cease to matter within the next forty-eight.)
Numerous observers have expressed incredulity over the eagerness of so many media mavens to allow the discredited armchair warriors of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq to dominate discussion of the current crisis in that country—a crisis whose foundations they helped put in place. In a saner world, each one would, at a minimum, be required to answer the following question: “Given your record the last time this issue arose, why in the world should we listen to anything you have to say today?” But as the respective rehabilitations of Henry Kissinger and Elliott Abrams demonstrate, being a known liar and an arguable (Kissinger) or unarguable (Abrams) enabler of genocide is no barrier to career advancement in the American establishment, thanks to the collective amnesia of its most elite institutions, especially its elite media.
Sometimes they lie outright. Here are Dick and Liz Cheney writing in The Weekly Standardregarding the Iraq invasion: “It is undisputed, and has been confirmed repeatedly in Iraqi government documents captured after the invasion, that Saddam had deep, longstanding, far-reaching relationships with terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda and its affiliates.”
Undisputed? Really? How about, just for starters, the 9/11 Commission, before which Cheney testified. Its final report, as Warren Bass noted in The Wall Street Journal, states that the commission has “seen no evidence [of] a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.”
William Kristol, perhaps the wrongest pundit in all of American history—and hence also the most sought-after by media institutions like The Washington PostThe New York Times,Time, ABC News, etc.—demonstrates a coy agnosticism when it comes to the choice between outright fabrication and contempt for the historical record. He doesn’t mind pretending, as he did on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos, that the current crisis was caused by what he termed “our ridiculous and total withdrawal from Iraq in 2011,” when in fact that withdrawal had been decided on in the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement negotiated with the Iraqi government by George W. Bush. But Kristol is just as comfortable asserting in The Weekly Standard (in an article written with Frederick Kagan), “Now is not the time to re-litigate either the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 or the decision to withdraw from it in 2011.” This is perhaps the only path available to someone with the chutzpah to insist, back in April 2003, that it was merely a “kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni,” when that same person today is calling for yet another attack on the country to deal with the Sunni/Shiite massacres inspired by the earlier one. But as Kristol, Cheney, Abrams and Kissinger demonstrate over and over, success within our political punditocracy means never having to say you’re sorry.