Archive for January, 2012

January 25, 2012

The 2012 State of the Union Address – YouTube

President Obama delivers the 2012 State of the Union Address to Congress and the nation.

From: whitehouse  | Jan 25, 2012  |

President Obama speaks about moving forward to create jobs,
out-compete in the global economy by investing in innovation and education,
and win the future for our children and our country. January 24, 2012.

January 21, 2012

Editorial: Web freedom vs. Web piracy

The massive Internet protest against PIPA and SOPA may have blocked flawed bills, but their intent and language need to be better aligned so they can move ahead.

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January 20, 2012, 5:15 p.m.

Protesters demonstrate against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) outside the offices of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in New York City.

Wikipedia went dark for a day. Google hid its logo under a black shroud. And hundreds of other websites darkened their pages temporarily in a massive, coordinated protest against a pair of bills that would step up enforcement of copyrights and trademarks. Wednesday’s demonstration provoked such an intense backlash against the Protect IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act (better known as PIPA and SOPA) that by the end of the week, more than 100 lawmakers had declared their opposition and both bills had been placed on hold.

It was a stunning — and in some ways troubling — show of lobbying muscle by some of the Web’s most popular companies. Shell-shocked supporters of the bills complained that the tech industry had misled the public and glossed over the damage being done by foreign-based websites peddling unauthorized copies of U.S. movies, music and brands. But the bills went too far, giving rights holders the power to do much more than proponents said they would. That’s a problem lawmakers need to solve before moving ahead.

The original versions of PIPA and SOPA would have enabled the Justice Department to seek court orders to seize the domain names of foreign sites that were either “dedicated to” infringing copyrights and trademarks or just facilitating infringement. Such orders would require Internet service providers to steer users away from the sites, search engines to block links to them, and payment processors and advertising networks to cut off their financial support. The measures would also have authorized copyright holders to seek similar court orders against any site dedicated to infringement.

Opponents of the bills blasted many of the provisions, but two criticisms have been in the forefront. First, online security experts argued that requiring ISPs to block access to offending sites would undermine efforts to develop a better domain name system to combat fraud and malware. Prodded by the Obama administration, the bills’ authors have agreed to drop that provision.

The second criticism is that by enabling federal courts to order search engines (or in the case of the House bill, virtually any Web page) not to publish links to offending domains, the bills would give the U.S. government the power to “censor the Internet.” That concern has become opponents’ main rallying cry, and it was the dominant theme of Wednesday’s protests.

Proponents of the bills say that argument is misleading and overblown. There is no 1st Amendment right to share pirated movies or buy counterfeit Prada bags. No one complains when search engines block links to phishing sites. And it would hardly be an injustice to deter people from patronizing an online business whose wares were illegal.

They have a point, but the issue is more complex than that. Trying to stop Americans from seeing sites that the rest of the world can see does amount, technically speaking, to censorship. Although that’s not hard to defend in the case of a foreign site that profits from piracy, the vague definitions in PIPA and SOPA could result in legitimate, non-infringing material being blocked alongside pirated music and movies. (Online lockers would be vulnerable. So might a site such as YouTube, where users upload both original and bootlegged content.) That kind of broad-brush approach would be unconstitutional if applied to book publishers or libraries, so why should the Internet be any different?

Not that Wednesday’s protests acknowledged these complexities. Little mention was made of the foreign sites that sell illegal copies of MP3s, or the advertiser-supported services that offer bootlegged versions of new movies. Instead, the protests reduced PIPA and SOPA to a black-and-white question: Should the government have more power over the Internet? That draws an easy and emphatic “no” from a population that’s increasingly reliant on the Web. The real issue, though, is whether foreign sites designed to capitalize on pirated and counterfeit goods should be allowed to prosper with the help of U.S. users — and U.S.-based tools for finding and monetizing content online — just by staying out of the reach of U.S. law.

The answer to that question should be an emphatic “no” too, even if the current iterations of PIPA and SOPA aren’t the right way to address foreign sites. As illustrated by a recent indictment of Hong Kong-based Megaupload, U.S. law already extends to much of the global Internet. And although it makes sense to try to cut off the funding for foreign piracy hotbeds, lawmakers need to tailor the legislation narrowly to that target. The original SOPA was so broad, it would have let rights holders go after Facebook, Twitter and other U.S. sites where users occasionally post links to infringing material.

These problems can be solved, and the bills’ authors have acknowledged that their proposals need more work. If this week’s protests produce a consensus approach to the problem of foreign piracy, then it will be a victory for grass-roots activism. But if tech companies convince lawmakers and millions of Web users that any solution is worse than the problem, then it will simply be a victory for a powerful new form of advocacy by the companies best able to plant their message in the echo chamber of the Net.

January 16, 2012

BY INVITATION: Saving energy means saving money as well as saving the mekong


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In this very fast-changing region, few countries are changing faster than Laos. With economic growth of around 8%, the country is awakening and Vientiane is bustling with new developments, new trucks, and an even brighter outlook. Laos is finally catching up with its neighbours, and though this will take time, the pace and direction is undeniably clear and strong.

However, beneath this strong economic growth is a challenging story. Numerous rivers are being dammed for power production as Laos pursues its vision to become the “Battery of Asia”, and about 90% of this power is for export to Thailand and Vietnam.

Obviously Laos is not the only country growing in this region, and the demand for electricity is understandably strong. But the “Land of a Million Elephants” is becoming the “Land of 50 Dams” and that affects us all. This is because the dams are on the tributaries and water catchments of the great Mekong River. Indeed, according to the Mekong River Commission, nearly one-third of Thailand is actually in the Mekong River basin. The current dams in the Mekong basin produce around 1,600 megawatts yet the potential is estimated at 30,000 MW. And with around 60 million people depending on the Mekong for food, water, and transport the number of people directly linked to the river is huge _ approximately the same as the population of Thailand itself. And these dams will have an uncertain impact on this important inland fishery.

Electricity is vital for economic growth and it is vitally important for countries to have very reliable sources of high-quality power to drive their economies forward. But not all electricity has to be used in an inefficient way, and by getting serious about energy efficiency, the demand growth can be reduced. And this will mean that fewer dams are needed on the precious Mekong and its basin. Countries such as Thailand and Vietnam getting more strict about energy efficiency will better preserve the region’s key river.

But for Laos alone, the energy efficiency gains are still potentially huge. Clean and intelligent use of energy efficiency measures would mean that less power is needed. Then either more power could be available to speed up the rate of rural electrification, or more power could be exported. And this power exported could help pay for the many schools, hospitals and clinics needed in Laos and help lift it even more quickly out of Least Developed Country (LDC) status.

Companies in Laos also stand to benefit hugely from energy efficiency measures, which typically pay for themselves in three to five years. However, Sunlabob Renewable Energy, with its innovative and comprehensive efficiency services together with other such companies in this sector, has found far fewer market opportunities in Laos than expected.

It is easy to change a building, and relatively easy to change a river basin, but incredibly hard to change mindsets built up over many decades. But until we all take hold of realising that energy efficiency is at the heart of preserving the region’s main river, our beautiful environment and the hopes of our children, then the predictable damage will be done.

Economic growth is essential for Southeast Asia, with our fast-growing populations deserving to have strong economies to build their own futures. But it is not inevitable that growth must take place in a way that damages our environment unnecessarily.

Stringent energy efficiency measures are economically efficient and help drive that vital growth. But for country like Laos, energy efficiency could mean more schools, hospitals and clinics. It means taking hold of the lessons other countries previously learned, and not repeating their mistakes.

If we want to get serious about building the right future for the Mekong basin, we have to seriously change our mindset to be more serious about energy efficiency. And nowhere is that more needed than within Laos itself. Though electricity in Laos is cheap it is never free, and the cost of the decisions we fail to make now should not be paid for by future generations.

Edward Allen is a technical programme coordinator at the Lao Institute for Renewable Energy and the technical adviser to Sunlabob Renewal Energy. He holds a BA in Geography from Oxford University, and an MSc and Diploma of Agriculture from Imperial College London (Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development). For more on renewable energy issues, see

About the author

Writer: Edward Allen
January 7, 2012

Schuster Institute, Fund for Investigative Journalism announce new collaboration


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Washington-based fund provides finances, Brandeis Institute gives guidance

Jan. 6, 2012

The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism and the Fund for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) in Washington, D.C. have launched an innovative collaboration to support reporting on vital social justice and human rights issues—reporting now endangered in mainstream newsrooms.

Based at Brandeis, the Schuster Institute & Fund for Investigative Journalism Fellowships provide talented independent reporters with a blend of funding for their projects from the FIJ and professional guidance, including editorial and research support, from the Schuster Institute.

Drawing from a pool of journalists previously chosen to receive FIJ grants for their work, the Schuster Institute selected seven outstanding grant recipients as Fellows, based on the potential impact of their projects and their demonstrated commitment to reporting about injustice.

The Fellows are investigating a wide range of issues—from undercover reporting about America’s food system to the residual health effects of undetonated munitions in Laos to child sexual abuse in Orthodox Jewish communities—spotlighting abuses of institutional power in the United States and globally.

FIJ provided the new Fellows with crucial startup funds to launch their time- and resource-intensive reporting. The Schuster Institute gives them an intellectual home where professional journalists provide editorial and strategic guidance and other support, including extensive efforts to promote and magnify the impact of their findings.

Newly hired Schuster Institute Executive Editor Melissa Ludtke and Founding Director Florence Graves are developing the Institute’s expanded fellowship program. These new Fellows join seven other journalists who are already part of the Institute’s Ethics & Justice Investigative Journalism Fellowship Program.

Ludtke served for 13 years as editor of the Nieman Reports at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and is a former Time correspondent and Sports Illustrated reporter.

The new fellows:

Scott Carney is a California-based investigative journalist and author whose reporting on crime and corruption has lead him across the world to trace the trade and sale of humans and their body parts. He is the author of “The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers” and a contributing editor at Wired.

Karen Coates & Jerry Redfern are a print and photojournalist team who reside in New Mexico and report primarily from Southeast Asia. Their recent work has focused on Cambodia and Laos, including the severe danger to Laotian farmers whose fields are—literally—potential bomb fields of unexploded ordnance left over from four billion pounds of bombs dropped on Laos by the United States between 1964 and 1973 during the Vietnam War. Up to 30 percent of those bombs didn’t explode, and may remain a danger in the soil today. This year, ThingsAsian Press will publish their book “Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos.”

Rebekah Cowell is a North Carolina-based investigative journalist who focuses on low-income, minority communities that abut hazardous waste facilities and have no platforms to voice their concerns about diseases related to pollution exposure. She is currently working on a six-part environmental justice series underwritten by a George Polk Grant for Investigative Reporting.

Jennifer Margulis is an Oregon-based author, lecturer, narrative nonfiction writer and editor who is investigating the overlooked dangers of some mainstream child-rearing practices, especially those where scientific evidence has been brushed aside in favor of special interests. Scribner will publish her next book in 2013: “The Business of Baby: How Corporations and Private Interests Skew the Way We Parent.”

Tracie McMillan is a New York-based investigative journalist whose reporting exposes economic injustice. For her forthcoming book, “The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table,” McMillian went undercover to learn what it takes to stay well-nourished in low-income America.

Hella Winston is a New York-based investigative reporter, author, and sociologist currently focusing on abuses of power in Orthodox Jewish communities. She is the author of the book “Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels,” for which she gained nearly unprecedented access and insight  into highly insular Hasidic sects.


January 7, 2012

Damming the Mekong: In suspension – Further delays to a planned giant dam in Laos

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Jan 7th 2012 | CHIANG MAI | from the print edition

THE fast-flowing currents and rich biodiversity of the Mekong river have gained a temporary reprieve. A meeting in December of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) has once again withheld approval for a controversial dam at Xayaburi in northern Laos. In a joint statement the four members of the MRC—Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam—called for further studies on the dam’s impact on the lower Mekong. (Until now the river has not been dammed outside China—see map.) The MRC said it would ask Japan to help conduct the research.

The decision to postpone construction has been applauded by many environmental groups. They argue that, if the dam goes ahead, it will devastate ecosystems and pose a threat to fisheries, food security and the livelihoods of 65m people. What is more, a positive decision could also have given the go-ahead to eight other dam projects in Laos, and two in Cambodia. All are subject to the MRC consultation process, which is designed to improve dialogue among the riparian countries as well as the management of the river. But Philip Hirsch, a Mekong specialist at the University of Sydney in Australia, says that the decision to postpone Xayaburi has broader implications. “If they [pro-dam interests] get Xayaburi, they will probably get the lot,” he suggests.

The environmentalists’ elation may turn out to be premature. A former Lao official working with the hydropower sector confirms what many have suspected. “The decision by the Lao government to build the Xayaburi Dam has been taken. Whatever the other Mekong countries say, it is determined to go ahead in 2012.”

Laos is not the first poor country to be caught between the need for development on the one hand, and environmental or diplomatic concerns on the other. The government’s economic strategy relies heavily on hard-currency earnings from selling electricity to its neighbours. At the December meeting of the MRC, Cambodia’s minister for water resources, Lim Kean Hor, spoke of the need for “the regional spirit” of the Mekong Agreement (which created the MRC in 1995) to balance “economic development without compromising livelihoods of their peoples and the ecology.” But it is not clear that such a balance can be achieved under the current international governance of the river. The MRC depends on consensus, and its members have no veto powers. If Laos decides to go ahead, there is nothing anyone else can do.

What may be causing Laos to hesitate is fear of offending its eastern neighbour and close friend, Vietnam. The two ruling Communist Parties have been allies for more than 50 years. The Vietnamese fear losses of fish and agricultural production in the fertile Mekong delta, and have demanded a moratorium on dams on the main stream of the Mekong for ten years.

On the other side of the argument is Thailand, which has a huge private-sector stake in the dam. CH. Karnchang, a Thai company based in Bangkok, would lead construction, with financing from four Thai banks, and 95% of the electricity will be sold to Thailand. A power-purchasing agreement has already quietly been signed between Thailand and Laos, and the Thai side has pushed ahead with building a road to the site of the dam. “By moving under the radar of the Mekong River Commission, Thailand and Laos have threatened the spirit of regional co-operation and the integrity of the 1995 Mekong Agreement,” claims Piaporn Deetes of International Rivers, a pressure group.

Big-power rivalries are involved too. A spokesman for Hillary Clinton, America’s secretary of state, has praised the decision to delay the dam. The Chinese have already constructed several dams across the upper reaches of the Mekong within China. Observers in the region, and in Washington, think that if the Xayaburi project were to go ahead, the next dams in Laos will be built by Chinese companies, taking China deeper into South-East Asia. American concerns are not just environmental, after all.

from the print edition | Asia

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