Take a look at this recent news story in The New York Times on the situation now that North Korean courts have sentenced U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee to 12 years in labor camps.

One theory is the conviction was the first step in diplomatic negotiations to work toward a face-saving means to release the pair. Another is that the two Americans wandered into North Korea at the worst moment, when antagonism was heating up with the United States — and even among factions within North Korea.

Clearly, the timing was awful, and so apparently was the journalists’ sense of geography. They are now chips in a diplomatic game that will revolve around nuclear testing, humanitarian relief, international censure and a few other negotiating points. The two worked for Al Gore’s Current TV, a web-TV outfit. Gore has suggested that he might be willing to serve as an emissary to seek the women’s release on humanitarian grounds.

In this case, understand that a humanitarian release probably also will be accompanied by about $20 million in U.S. aid that just may not be mentioned in the same breath. Any trade-offs will be de-linked for the efficacy of both sides. But in the gamesmanship with North Korea, there is always going to be a trade-off.

These journalists apparently were aiming to do noble work chronicling the plight of North Koreans who are often victimized as they try to slide quietly into China. But their presence on the wrong side of the border — if they really were wrong — has proven costly not only for them but probably for our diplomatic positioning.

But these things happen in a free society. Or a freeer-than-North-Korean society, by a good amount.

This story is transpiring as news reports in Asia are exploring indirect information that 67-year-old President Kim Jong-il has designated a son, 25-year-old Kim Jong-un, to replace him eventually at the top of the government. Kim is trying to keep the power in the family. It was handed down to him from his father, the national patron and penalizer Kim Il-sung.  The continuation of  this family legacy, of course, defeats any sense that there is any sort of merit-based political hierarchy in North Korea. It would place the system squarely in the box of dictatorship.

Keeping all of the higher-level politicos and army generals happy will not be easy as the Kim kid takes over power. Father Kim is going to have to buy off a whole generation (or two) of top dogs, promising favors, new sinecures and probably free travel to countries where they can act particularly un-North Korean for a while.  In other words, they can have some leisure-time fun, an experience not available to most other citizens.

Kim has one other option. He can lock up and forget to feed anyone who disagrees, as long as the locker-uppers abide by the plan. These sorts of family-first-by-force patronage systems have been going on for thousands of years, especially in Asia but also in well-known historical places like Rome during the empire.  We just don’t see many attempts in the 21st century.

The Kims are not your typical modern family.

Watch for more on this. (With the other eye on similar power-shifts in Cuba.)  Media reports have been wrong before, especially on issues as dicey and guarded as North Korean politics. It’s not like President Kim holds press conferences. Dictators don’t need the trouble of accountability. The two U.S. journalists now in NK prisons remind us of that.


The Hubble space telescope is something that is used internationally by many countries. Repairs were done on it recently in order to keep it in operation until 2014. A camera on the telescope was fixed in order to continue observations from space. This telescope acts as  a small part of United States public diplomacy program in order to give access to other countries. It is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency and something that is important to keep up for positive relations in the advancement of science

I found another story today by the BBC that discusses the importance of maintaining resources in Africa.  It mentions that Africa does indeed make money from its resouces like gold and diamonds.  This profit could potentially get many people out of poverty and into more stable environments.  However, the article questions how Africa is using its resources and if they are being used effectively.  It reminded me about our research papers involving sustainability!

When I read this article, I automatically thought about Kaplan and his theory surrounding resource depletion and environmental problems.  How can you have a stable society, one with less poverty, with issues involving use of resources?

The BBC released a story today following the arest of Iranian journalist, Roxana Saberi. We have covered this story throughout the semester but I found something interesting in this article.  Basically, it talks about the arrest of the fellow journalist being a warning to all journalists in Iran, both domestic and foreign.  It suggests that the intention of arresting Saberi was to make a point to other journalists.    With the massive amounts of coverage this particular story has received within Iran and across the world, journalists in Iran are left in fear that they too will be arrested, just like Saberi.  (will we see alot more self cenorship?)  According to the article, Saberi’s father even called her “a symbol for press freedom.”  It’s also interesting that this entire case and attention was over a piece of paper that Saberi copied two years ago. 

This story goes to show us just how much the government can control parts of the media and the journalism profession.  I am interested to see Iranian trends change, especially in the journalism field.  Overall, this event and arrest summarizes alot of what our class has covered through the semester.  Reading this story without taking the class, I don’t think I would have as much understanding and appreciation!

Today will mark the 7th day of violence and murder in Somalia. This violence is caused by “Islamist rebels and Somalia’s western-backed government and allies exchanged mortar and small arms fire” reports Reuters. So far there has ben 139 civilian deaths. Somalia has dealt with years of conflict and has “defied 15 attempts to establish central rule and created one of the world’s worst aid crises.” Thousands have evacuated and it seems like this will be hard to control this fighting because the army are getting killed also.

As a class we have been following the Somalia pirate raids and I had no idea that they were suffering from this internal warfare for years. This fighting erupted again once the Ethiopian tanks and troops bombarded Somalia and crushed the sharia courts movement in 2006.

Two Zimbabwe journalists held on charges of publishing false informations have been released, according to an article from Al Jazeera English. The statements in question were said to have been made with the intention of lowering confidence in public law enforcement agencies.

After months of political upheaval, Zimbabwe formed a unity government in February, under President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai. Donors to the government demand that the unity governement carry out political and media reforms before they release funds for the country’s economic recovery program. According to the article, any political upheaval could delay efforts to rebuild the ruined economy.

Journalist are calling for the unity governement to get rid of media laws that Mugabe has used to silence his opponents; laws that include barring foreign journalists from working in the country and the routine arrests of journalists reporting falsehoods.

Zimbabwe has one of the lowest of press freedom in all of Africa. According to the Global Journalism, “The Press is a victim of President Robert Mugabe’e dogged resolve to remain in office despite the county’s economic collaps because of his policies.” Now, if the country wants its economy to recover, the country is going to have to rely on the same man who destroyed it and muffled the press in the first place. It is the measure of a true authoritarian system when a leader can destroy the economy and still retain power. One can only hope that outside investors and the new unity government will have enough of an impact to counter Mugabe and start to make a difference.

Déjà vu anyone? Again pictures have resurfaced of America soilders abusing prisoners. This time it is in Iraq. These pictures were taken in 2004. A BBC

2004 Photo of US soldiers abusing prisoner

2004 Photo of US soldiers abusing prisoner


report says that the President claims that releasing more pictures would be “no benefit” to anyone and would”inflame anti-American opinion and put our troops in greater danger”. 

This reminds me of the article that Dr. Scott linked to us about Public Diplomacy and Americas image to the rest of the world. The article said that  the American image is at low because foreign people are opposed to our policies. The article also goes on to say that the policy starts in the White House and it would make sense for the White House to start a diplomacy position. 

Obviously we did not learn much from what happened in Guanatanamo Bay and since our global image is about to go down even more I think it might be wise for the President to consider making a senior public diplomacy position.

The President has said that he does not tolerate this abuse at all and of course he is right. But until this abuse stops happening and evidence stops being leaked then a position in the public diplomacy department might be a smart idea.