Communication Leadership Blog
This op-ed was originally published in the Kansas City Star.
Over the last few years, we've seen the public's trust in government reach historic lows.
This lack of connectivity with our political leaders and institutions is acute with today's millennial generation showing low voter turnout and half of them identifying as politically independent. When government ceases attracting top talent it deepens government inefficiency and public mistrust.
Unfortunately, there is evidence that a cycle of distrust and cynicism is already beginning as members of the next generation dedicate themselves to careers outside government. According to a recent Bipartisan Policy Center report, "Fewer young people are interested in serving as political appointees, and fewer still think of running for elective office."
Young people are interested in meaningful careers and making a difference but they just don't see political office as the way to do this. Millennials are also more optimistic about the country's future than older generations. The question is, how can we get our young, talented future leaders engaged in government service that can create positive outcomes for their fellow citizens?
The first step is to restore a sense of civic duty in ourselves. Our nation needs to rededicate itself to the merit of service to re¬engage the next generation.
Imagine a country where all young Americans completed a year of some type of service. Imagine how this could dramatically alter the pipeline of individuals interested in service and how it could alter perceptions about those who serve.
National service creates an entry point to understanding how society works and it also can help foster active participation in our democracy. Service -- military service, AmeriCorps or working in the government -- can help fuel cooperation by helping individuals develop a greater sense of empathy for others and exposing them to new experiences and individuals.
I'm currently on the Leadership Council of the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute. The Franklin Project is chaired by General Stan McChrystal and the initiative is working to make a year of national service a cultural expectation, a common opportunity and a civic rite of passage for every young American.
As the Bipartisan Policy Commission report indicates, national service can be an antidote to some of the nation's most pressing challenges, bridge social and economic divides and limit political polarization. This will require investment from many sources -- public, private and nonprofit.
For decades, administrations from both parties have invested in national service. But this year, the House and Senate have approved sequestration¬ level budgets and assigned spending allocations that place our national service programs and the Corporation for National and Community Service at risk. For example, the House is currently considering legislation that would reduce the CNCS budget by nearly $370 million, a devastating 34 percent cut over the previous year.
If one issue could cause members of Congress to cooperate in a bipartisan fashion it is funding for national service programs.
We are going to lose the next generation of political leaders if we don't find a way for our country to restore confidence and trust here at home. Supporting national service is one way to work to remedy this.
Dan Glickman represented Kansas in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977 to 1995 and served as secretary of agriculture under President Bill Clinton from 1995 to 2001. He is currently a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy.
In part one of his essay, prominent Russian media analyst Vasily Gatov explained the origins of Putin's anti-Western narrative and the current Russian propaganda campaign. In this second installment, he focuses on the twisted logic behind this narrative and the mistakes of the West, and he provides recommendations on how to counter the Kremlin's offensive.
Launching an Offensive Against the West
There is another side of the story that I merely touched on at the beginning of this article. By 2007, the West had very mixed feelings about Russia, as did Russians. Those mixed feelings were communicated through the mass media. Some opinions expressed in the mass media on Russia and Russian politics (as well as on Putin personally) were critical, while some were neutral and some positive. Overall, Russia received the treatment from global media that it deserved--it was portrayed as a large, diverse, transitional country with nuclear power, a questionable democracy, apparent corruption, and a lack of soft power that at the same is both interesting and rich.
The Western press did display one bias that can hardly be denied: it described Russia in a much more critical way than Russians would have liked, especially when it focused on one particular Russian--President Vladimir Putin.
The question remains of whether the Western press has really been diverted by the perils of the Cold War to become a tool of the capitalist governments carrying out a century-long operation against Mother Russia (regardless of who governs it). When you approach this issue with the twisted logic of the elite narrativists mentioned earlier, you are doomed to discover all the elements of an orchestrated, manipulative campaign. It's hard to argue with this position, as it is bolstered by "evidence" that runs the gamut from fake quotes by Winston Churchill to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fabricated historical document that has been largely used to support numerous conspiracy theories. But by looking deeper, one can see the difference of perception: while Russian people and their leaders suffer from what they perceive as humiliation, Western media view this perception only as a subject of reporting and publishing opinions.
The new Russian narrative has developed since 2007, and it continues to expand, feeding on every action (or lack thereof) of the Western governments. Through Russian communication channels (including foreign propaganda such as RT, domestic state-controlled media, and top-level diplomacy), U.S. foreign policy is presented as a lasting diabolic plot aimed at dismantling Russia. Everything feeds this narrative. Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria; the ISIS threat; the development of private spaceflight companies; fracking; the Internet, social networks; iPhones; Hollywood; the U.S. higher education system, which lures in the best students from all over the world--all these, according to the twisted logic of many Russians, are undeniable "facts" that prove the existence of a U.S. conspiracy against Russia.
However, it is hard to explain why, until recently, Russia seemed to have tolerated U.S. global dominance and the American government's cruel plot. It is even harder to explain why Russia now demands approval of and respect for its policies (e.g., the annexation of Crimea and its proxy war in eastern Ukraine) from the United States if it views the latter as such an aggressor.
The charge of waging this new narrative has inevitably returned Russia to the former Soviet communications policy of pervasive propaganda, whether open or covert. The difference is that the Soviet weapons were loaded with possibly deadly communist ideas designed to combat the unlimited, wild capitalism of the 1920s. Today, the Russian weapons of information warfare are loaded with deception. Communism offered a dream of universal equality and the just distribution of wealth. Russia today relies on concussive weaponry that aims to damage the messaging system of the Western democracies. When RT adopts the slogan "Question more," does it imply that the public should question the government more, and if so, on what subject? The Communist narrative was bound to the crucial issues of the society; Putin's narrative, appropriated to undermine the Western worldview, aims to discredit the very concept of truth and interfere with public opinion.
Most importantly, some (if not all) weapons Russia employs target the Russian audience, too. Putin's narrative is the only one that dominates the national mass media, and even though his critics spend a lot of time trying to expose the deceptive nature of this view, by spending so much time and effort on this task, they actually expand the narrative, giving more authority to Putin's distorted worldview.
"Arsenal of Democracy"
Western media bodies, like the Broadcasting Board of Governors in the United States or the BBC World service in the United Kingdom, seem inept when it comes to Russia, as they also spend a lot of time "explaining the truth" and arguing with the Kremlin's worldview. Instead of taking proactively steps, they only respond to Russian information attacks, merely hoping that their antidote of "the truth" will work before the Kremlin's lies poison the overriding narrative.
As Western culture is increasingly predisposed toward self-reflection, the poisoning of the narrative induces a discussion of "What has the West done wrong with Russia?" The mistakes of the West with regard to Russia were many, and there's no time machine that will allow these countries to go back and retroactively correct them. The lessons of history should provide guidelines for the West to not repeat these mistakes. However, the question remains: Why does Russia repeatedly cause the West and particularly the United States to fail to build a successful bilateral relationship?
Sometimes loaded words speak louder than anything else. Putin doesn't wish to hit a playback button and return Milosevic to Belgrade or resurrect Saddam Hussein. Nor does he mean that the European Union and NATO have to expel the Eastern European states. His core message is--and has been since the early days of his leadership--"Don't mess with my personal political dominance, don't challenge me at home, and don't foster political and civic powers that can offer an alternative to me." Scared by the Ukrainian uprising in 2004, and shocked by the Arab Spring, Putin consolidated all the media power at his disposal and fired a cannonade at the West that can be boiled down to the following message: "Stay away from my domain and my people." It was a turning point: Putin lost control of the narrative. From that moment on, the narrative took control of him, as it did with millions of Russians who were overexposed to this loud outcry.
The arsenals of the media war are growing on both sides. Russia is a favorite target of U.S. hawkish conservatives, who represent a remnant of the Cold War mentality (although there is truth to their concerns: Russia still possesses a large nuclear arsenal and thus theoretically poses a threat to U.S. security). Furthermore, the Russian government supports illiberal, sometimes xenophobic social attitudes and values, which exposes it to criticisms from the left. Putin's Russia returned to the logic of "spheres of influence," a stance that frightens former Soviet client-states and neighbors. Western politicians have started campaigns to reduce the power of Russian interests abroad and have offered support to the opposition in Moscow. Journalists have flooded the Western media with stories revealing the regime's alleged and real crimes. In describing the new Russian/Putin threat, columnists have invoked the language last used by Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare. Most, if not all, of this retaliation is justified and sincere. People in the West see the aggression projected from Moscow. But in the Kremlin's eyes, the retaliation certainly looks orchestrated by someone in the White House or the State Department.
Under these circumstances, the West should realize that it is time for, to quote Roosevelt, the deployment of the "arsenal of democracy." But the worst thing for the West would be to fire back at Russians using the same weapons that the Kremlin has employed. Telling the truth about Russian woes, including those that derive from corruption, is not a solution either. Investigations must be conducted and exposés must be published by Russian journalists and concerned citizens. Demonization of Putin by the Western media will continue to be ineffective, as it is perceived as a form of treachery and further triggers the feeling of national humiliation.
While it may feel terribly unjust and offensive to the West to be a target of a propaganda campaign that spreads lies, the only sensible response is avoidance of any escalation of conflict. Indeed, Putin's dominant narrative needs to be countered--but when the Western states imposed sanctions against Russian individuals and companies last year following Russia's involvement in the Ukraine crisis, this measure was the single most effective action that fed the aggression narrative. When Western media joined the leaders of their countries in mocking Putin as a crook, they only added fuel to the fire.
Ideally, the Kremlin should be ignored. The West has to adopt a sort of news boycott on Russian events (or, even better, opinion editors might agree to declare a kind of boycott on "Russian issues"). Lacking international attention, the monster of a propaganda machine created by Putin will be left chewing over its old arguments, and eventually its narrative will wither and die. Does Putin's Russia really threaten the United States and Europe? Well, any responsible analyst will say, no. The nuclear threat is essentially theoretical. Russia's conventional or hybrid military powers are sufficient for a local conflict but deployed on a larger scale will cause more trouble to Russia itself than to NATO. Many observers don't realize that the Russian regular army has enormous problems: it's understaffed and inadequately equipped, its intelligence capacity is feeble, and its spirit is very questionable. Russia's economy and trade should not be underestimated, but they would not sustain a major trade war.
The fewer reasons there are to fuel Putin's paranoia, the sooner the country's isolation will affect his policies. In this case, the Western media should take a unified approach: if the Kremlin wants to be mentioned, voice an opinion, or publicize its achievements in the Western news, it should pay for that as if it were an advertisement. Essentially, any information coming from the Kremlin should be treated as propaganda, like that found on RT or heard from some marginal European politicians aiming at misleading the public. Such actions by the Western media to avert propaganda at home would be justified.
This policy should have one distinct exception. The only news from Russia that should be reported under this boycott should be that pertaining to human rights issues. Sound familiar? Indeed, it is a replica of the practice adopted by the Western press after the Helsinki Accords. At that time the Soviet Union had much to say (and had far more power than today's Russia), but it still failed to counter this approach.
Information can be seen as a weapon, and it can hurt. But ignorance hurts more. The responsive, reflective, tactical nature of Putin's policy will suffer more if no one speaks about it, listens to it, or slams it. While this approach may be wrong from a purist Lippmannian point of view, which prioritizes covering all sides of the story, it does inherit Kennan's idea of containment. Although lies and deception are annoying to democratic institutions like the free press, the last thing the West should do is participate in the spreading of conspiracy theories produced by the Kremlin for the sake of preserving a "balance of opinion." There are enough conspiracy seekers in the West. No reputable media outlet should invest in developing countermeasures.
As for the above-mentioned BBG, BBC, and Deutsche Welle (the bodies created in the West to influence nondemocratic states, including Russia), they must employ the most powerful weapon of democracy: the ability to showcase the opportunities that grow from the free pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. These still remain scarce in Russia today.
The overwhelming scale and deeply destructive nature of the Kremlin's information war has only recently drawn attention of the Western mainstream media and policymakers. In part one of his essay, prominent Russian media analyst Vasily Gatov, visiting fellow at the Center of Communication Leadership and Policy, University of Southern California, explains the origins of the Russian propaganda and Putin's anti-Western narrative.
As consumption of mass media has increased dramatically in modern times, outscoring all other human habits in absorbing hours and minutes of life, the idea of "information weaponry" has become a kind of banality. Propaganda, framing, agenda setting, and dozens of other armaments have been recognized since 1921, when Walter Lippmann first described the mechanics of mass media influence over public opinion. He was followed by the "father of public relations," Edward Bernays, who formulated the tools and secrets of the propaganda trade and laid the groundwork for huge tribes of later propagandists.
Winding the clock forward, we can see how propaganda and mass media helped, if not formed, the initial success of the Nazi Party in Germany. We can see how Stalin brainwashed the whole population of the largest country in the world. We can observe the total propaganda assault of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, and its cruel policy of censorship. We must acknowledge, too, that Bernays' colleagues and followers in the propaganda profession made large contributions to these "information wars" as well.
Starting in 1917, a Soviet narrative appeared that was ideological, Marxist, and aggressive; it offered a story of the proletarian fight for freedom and equality, while redefining freedom in an Orwellian way, as a subjection of individual interests to the class's interests. The Soviet narrative was quickly recognized as a dangerous weapon by many Western governments. During the first half of the twentieth century, the countermeasures taken against it could be disgusting and cruel. During the Red Scare the United States persecuted and deported thousands of European socialists and communists who had fled their home continent. Those who embraced the communist narrative were massacred in Spain under Franco's regime. Every Western country persecuted leftists one way or another as they strove to fight the possible dangers of subversion. Later in the century, these countries shifted to the more advanced and "soft" weapons in their arsenal, including those designed to allow the West to infiltrate Soviet territory and affect Russia's domestic situation (measures that were, in fact, a response to the USSR's attempts to infiltrate and influence the Western public sphere).
In 1991, an important turning point occurred with the collapse of the USSR and the consequent dismissal of one of the major wielders of "information weaponry." Clearly, support for the Soviet narrative had also collapsed. Meanwhile, there was (and still continues to be) a major discussion on whether the confrontation of narratives occasioned by the Cold War transformed the nature of the mass media in the West; the 1998 Herman and Chomsky treatise Manufacturing Consent offered a structured model of this mutation. The purpose of this article is not to argue with the propaganda model or reinforce its legacy, but rather to offer a different angle on the model that comes from observations of the recent changes in the current Russian narrative and its tools of war.
The New Old Narrative
1991 is so important in this context because the date symbolizes the defeat of an organized Soviet narrative. It would be totally misguided to say that communist ideas about the utopian nature of the "just" society that would overturn exploitation of the masses were only promoted by Russians. The "natural left" has always existed, and there are still many who support this ideology, but what happened in August of 1991 marks the end of the funding that was previously made available to those who supported this narrative. It is unlikely that we will ever have the chance to expose the full scale of Soviet investment in this cause, not only because those archives are still classified, but also because this investment was diverse, delivered through many channels, including the governments of the USSR's various client-states. One thing is certain: this was a well-funded system, built around the twin aims of aggression and submission.
The West, in response, crafted its own system to counter Soviet propaganda and wage its own campaign. Unlike the USSR, where ideology was the top priority of the governing party, Western countries needed a lot of organizational engineering to get their systems up and running. It was a difficult task for them, as most governments in the West were either legally prohibited from owning mass media outlets or were very limited in their access to and control of editorial policy (which was necessary to disperse the messages and other narrative elements that would counteract the Russian effort).
Yet the system was built in the West, and it played a distinctive role in the end of the USSR and the fall of the Eastern bloc. There is no doubt the Soviet Union fell victim to many factors, including self-inflicted damage. What is interesting--and, to an extent, the key to the present-day conflict in the media space--is how much the West's counternarrative (or so-called "active measures" against the USSR) really affected the Western mass media, as well as Western education, ethics, communication, and values, and transformed it into what Chomsky portrayed as an evil factory of consent.
When Vladimir Putin first outlined the framework of a new Russian narrative in his Munich Speech in 2007, it came as a surprise to policymakers--but not to policy experts. The Russian public sphere had never let go of the 1991 defeat. The first step in understanding what happened is to look at the various interpretations of the USSR's collapse. While the West largely agreed that the Soviet empire was destroyed by its own internal controversies, policy mistakes, and economic inefficiency, some Russians viewed the collapse as an inspired, treacherous coup d'état by the United States and their allies. In their opinion, the defeat was "illegitimate," as the Soviet Union was not crushed militarily but collapsed as a result of a secret operation, when the converted leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) "capitulated" and surrendered to the "world hegemon." This is a twisted logic, but without explanation of its origin one can hardly understand Putin's sorrow over and lament for the "tragic finale" of the USSR and the alleged humiliation of the Soviet nation that followed.
To put the record straight, a revanchist part of the Russian political elite (the same elite that Putin later decided to join and lead) interpreted 1991 as the "illegitimate victory" of the West. This group embraced a worldview centered on the idea of a U.S.-led plot that successfully established Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary of the CPSU; persuaded him to retreat from "the Soviet sphere of influence"; weakened Soviet military power; and eventually opened the door to a cabal of crooks who seized control, dismantled the USSR, and threw the nation into despair.
This narrative was never mainstream in the Russian public sphere, but it has always been present there. Once again, the central idea of this narrative is "illegitimate victory and consequent humiliation." With this structure as a centerpiece, the idea then interprets every following event--whether political, military, or even cultural--as proof of the plot and the "criminal intentions" of a West that still aims to discover other means of humiliating the country.
When Russian privatization was carried out under the guidance of Harvard advisers, the promoters of this narrative immediately interpreted their presence as proof of the United States' intention to purchase the assets of Russian companies cheaply and destroy the country's economy. When the West neglected Russian public opinion on the Yugoslav Wars (regardless of the real reasons for that neglect), this same group saw its disregard as further reinforcement of the humiliation hypothesis. Russians perceived the Dayton agreements as an attack on the Serbs; the handling of Kosovo in the following years deepened Russian resentment of Western ignorance of some important "red lines" (supposedly drawn sometime in the 1870s and neglected ever since but revived when it became necessary to justify Russia's presence in the Balkans). When NATO used its power to quell Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, the promoters of the Soviet narrative used the event as an additional argument to bolster their hypothesis of the humiliation and aggression that the United States was plotting for Russia.
The abovementioned part of the Russian elite used every real (or imaginary) incident to strengthen its conspiracy theory. By the time of Putin's Munich speech, this narrative had become sufficiently powerful to become a national narrative. The Russian president did nothing different from what other populist leaders do: he took control of and publicized this narrative under his own name.
From 2007 on, this narrative became a weapon that Putin and other members of his administration could develop and perfect. As a result, Russia Today, a Kremlin-funded television network launched in 2005, abandoned its toothless "promotion of the Russian nation" to become an instrument of "manufacturing discontent." Rebranded as RT, it openly states its goal not as reporting the news, but as interpreting the news in order to cultivate discontent with "official Western narratives."
Russia has taken on the practices of the CPSU that funded fellow communist parties and insurgents worldwide to fight, in the words of Vladimir Lenin, "for the values of communism and the interests of the working class." Surprisingly, the recipients of the funding the government disperses today are not leftist parties, but ultra-nationalists and public intellectuals who have agreed to promote the government-approved message on the West's "illegitimate victory" and quest for Russian humiliation.
Cities and other government jurisdictions should develop detailed criteria and standards to help them efficiently develop their open data initiatives, according to a report released today by Open Data LA, a project of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.
The report, The State of Open Data in Los Angeles County: A Framework, proposes that governments define open data success based on measurable indicators of a city's level of open data expertise and leadership in driving sustainable open data initiatives. The framework suggests revising and blending two sets of existing criteria - the U.S. City Open Data Census ratings and the financial transparency criteria developed by CALPIRG, a public interest research group.
Using this criteria, USC Annenberg journalism professor Dana Chinn and a research team conducted a pilot evaluation to assess the status of open data initiatives and policymaking in eight Los Angeles County cities, including the City of Los Angeles.
"We believe we should hold governments accountable for building a sustainable foundation, and for evaluating progress based on the breadth and quality of the datasets themselves," reads the report. "Cities and other government jurisdictions, large and small, have started many open data initiatives over the past two years. This flurry of activity, while admirable, raises several questions. Do governments have open data strategies and goals? How much progress have they made? Will their open data initiatives be sustained beyond the next round of elections?"
Open Data LA will be expanding and applying the framework to more cities, and also will be exploring the roles of governments, news organizations and other groups.
"Robust, sustainable open data initiatives are essential for increasing government transparency and fostering civic participation," said Chinn. "Open data is more than just hackathons. The current ranking systems just don't provide the information needed to know whether city open data initiatives are really having an impact."
The full report is available here.
This op-ed was originally published in The Hill
Why can't most inexpensive cell phones receive life-saving emergency weather alerts?
Why, unlike people in the rest of the world, can't Americans listen to emergency information broadcasts on their cell phones?
These are not accidents or unanticipated consequences. These are the results of deliberate decisions that have been made on the design, regulation and operation of the U.S. cell phone system.
Nearly a decade ago, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who now chairs the House Energy & Commerce Committee, anticipated the need to expand access to emergency information.
"With nearly 200 million Americans carrying cell phones and other wireless devices it seems only natural to also look to the wireless industry to help communicate in times of emergencies," he said, citing U.S. policy "to have an effective, reliable, integrated, flexible, and comprehensive system to alert and warn the American people. What we must strive for is an emergency system that leaves no one behind."
The good news is that the system can be fixed, quickly. On June 18 the Federal Communications Commission will consider a proposal to comprehensively restructure and modernize the Lifeline program. Based on a series of meetings with high level participants from government, industry and academia, the USC Annenberg Center for Communication Leadership & Policy is urging the FCC to ensure that cell phone carriers receiving subsidies through the FCC's Lifeline program provide affordable mobile phones equipped with emergency services for all Americans.
This is important for several reasons.
When a tornado, earthquake, hurricane or other emergency hits the United States, all broadcasters are required to send warnings that can be received by every radio and television set in the affected area. By contrast, federal rules governing emergency life-saving alerts sent to mobile phones make these alerts optional - at the discretion of the phone company.
So phone companies can and do send emergency alerts to expensive smart phones. But they are not required to send life-saving information to Americans with inexpensive cell phones - and some phone companies do not. Unlike decades-old federal requirements for broadcasters to serve the public in emergencies, the federal rules for mobile phones were written to allow phone companies to withhold life-saving information from their customers.
As a result, millions of Americans with low-cost cell phones and cell phone plans are in danger because they have been redlined into unsafe digital ghettoes, their telephones excluded by their phone company from receiving critical emergency information.
But that is not the full extent of the problem.
Even the most expensive smart phones are deliberately engineered to prevent Americans from receiving life-saving information during emergencies.
Here's how: Almost all smart phones sold in the United States come equipped with an FM radio receiver. Indeed, in much of Asia and Africa, millions of people listen to broadcast radio on their mobile phones.
But unlike phones in Asia and Africa, cell phones in the U.S. are sold with their FM receivers disabled by the manufacturer - yes, deliberately turned off - preventing Americans from using their telephones' radio receivers. Yes, you can listen to some radio stations, but only if you use your cell phone provider's data plan, charging you by the minute. The FM receiver in your phone, if you can use it, would let you listen for free - just as people do in the rest of the world.
Why is this such a vital issue during emergencies?
Because, as the head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration pointed out, during emergencies the cell phone network is overwhelmed - if indeed towers are still standing at all. As a result, FEMA wants all Americans to have access to over-the-air broadcast radio during emergencies.
But with your cell phone's radio receiver disabled by the manufacturer, that means you cannot receive vital life-saving information during emergencies on your mobile phone.
When told of this, people are astonished. The CEO of a Fortune 50 company was incredulous, asking me how this could have happened in America.
But it has happened in America. That is the bad news. The good news is that it can be changed.
The Federal Communications Commission can and should take action to remedy this failing when it takes up Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal to modernize the Lifeline program. We urge the FCC to change the rules, a change which will force an end to digital redlining in order to allow all Americans to have access to life-saving information before and during emergencies.
Who can be against that?
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Singapore's emergence from a tiny third world island nation to a first world power - with no natural resources and a population smaller than some U.S. cities - was the topic of discussion at a CCLP forum here on Monday.
Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, Singapore's Ambassador to the United States, noted that decades ago, Singapore was dismissed as "a little red dot." But what may have been intended as an insult became a term of pride, with "Little Red Dot" institutions sprouting through the country.
"In 1965 Singapore was an independent with no resources of our own," Mirpuri explained. Water and food were imported from Malaysia, and oil came from Indonesia. The priority back then, he said, was summed up in one word: "survival."
Today, Singapore is a global business and transportation hub, with a world-leading airline, port and airport - the sixth-busiest in the world. GDP per capita has soared from US$500 to US$55,000 - yes, more than 100-fold.
And according to the Ambassador, it all began with two initiatives: education and business.
"We used education as a way to move people forward," he said.
In business, for years Singapore has been at or near the top of global ratings as the best place in the world to do business, a longtime initiative of business diplomacy that has created the country's economic foundation.
"There are more U.S. investments in Singapore than in China and India combined," said Mirpuri, adding that half of the Fortune 500 have regional headquarters or research facilities on the island. One example: General Motors just moved its Asia headquarters from China to Singapore.
One major diplomatic initiative over the past five decades was to improve relations with Singapore's neighbors, as the Ambassador put it, "to create a safe neighborhood around us." Fifty years ago, ties to Indonesia were frayed. But today ties are so close that, according to Mirpuri, the Singapore-Jakarta air route is the second busiest in the world, with more than forty flights a day.
And 50 years ago, there were tensions between Singapore and Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur. That, too, has changed:
"The big target now is to create a high-speed rail link between the two capitals," he said, to reduce travel time to two hours, "less than the Acela from Washington to New York."
Asked how multicultural Singapore handles relationships with Muslim populations, the Ambassador noted his country's frame of reference is very different from the U.S. or Europe, because Singapore's neighbors are Malaysia, which is predominantly Muslim, and Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. Rejecting one questioner's phrase, "a clash of civilizations," he said Singapore preferred to integrate its Muslim population and to reach out to embrace its Muslim neighbors.
Mirpuri was also asked about Singapore's controls on media and free expression. He said all international media were readily available in his country - business could not function without it, he added - but that there were restrictions on what domestic media could do, to reduce ethnic tensions. And he compared it to similar practices in the U.S. that have similar objectives.
"We see Washington D.C. just banned some advertisements," he noted, referring to the city's ban last week on issue advertising in the DC transit system.
The series continues through the summer. The topic for July's forum will be "Boots and Beer, Hearts and Minds: Country Music as American Public Diplomacy."
Why can't many inexpensive cell phones receive life-saving emergency weather alerts? Why, unlike people in much of the world, can't Americans listen to emergency information broadcasts on their cell phones? These are not accidents or unanticipated consequences. These are the results of policies and decisions by government agencies and the U.S. cell phone industry that should be addressed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Based on a series of meetings with high level participants from government, industry and academia, CCLP filed a comment with the Federal Communications Commission on May 29, 2015, recommending that the FCC ensure that cell phone carriers receiving subsidies through the FCC's Lifeline program provide affordable mobile phones equipped with emergency services for all Americans.
CCLP applauds FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's new proposal to expand the Lifeline program to include subsidized access to broadband Internet, which is set for a vote at the FCC's June 18 meeting. Because broadband Internet is increasingly accessed through mobile devices, the CCLP comment also emphasizes the need for the Lifeline subsidy to cover mobile broadband. While broadband Internet access at home is important, mobile broadband is a critical tool for public safety because it is accessible to users at all times - not only when they are at home.
Lifeline is a government benefit program that since 1985 has provided discounts on monthly telephone service for eligible low-income subscribers to help ensure they can connect to basic services. The Lifeline program first launched in 1985 by providing landline phone service to qualifying households, and over the past decade the program has expanded to include mobile devices. The CCLP comment was submitted to the FCC to offer ways that the Lifeline program could be updated to ensure public safety and access to emergency information for all Americans.
The comment urges the FCC to "ensure that Eligible Telecommunication Carriers (ETCs) receiving funding from the Lifeline program: (1) provide phones and plans that allow for at least minimum text messaging and broadband; (2) provide phones that are equipped with an activated frequency modulation (FM) chip to enable all Lifeline users to receive life-saving information during emergencies when cell phone networks are overwhelmed; and (3) adopt Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and provide phones that are WEA-capable."
"Each of these recommendations will help to ensure that the United States continues working toward a public safety system that works for all Americans, from every socio-economic background and in every region of the country," reads the comment, citing Rep. Fred Upton, Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, who said, "What we must strive for is an emergency system that leaves no one behind."
"Mobile phones today offer enormous potential in regards to public safety and emergency preparedness, but current infrastructure and systems present substantial challenges as well," said Geoffrey Cowan, CCLP director and USC University Professor who co-authored the comment along with CCLP Senior Fellow Adam Clayton Powell III. Cowan is the former dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He also taught communication law and policy at UCLA and argued a landmark case before the FCC.
In 2014, CCLP launched an initiative to research these issues, explore solutions and define minimum capabilities of cell phones for health care, public safety and other public services.
The recommendations to the FCC result from a January 2015 Washington, D.C. meeting organized by CCLP and The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands. That meeting brought together 20 high-level government officials, top mobile technology industry professionals, public advocates and entrepreneurs to discuss the Wireless Emergency Alert system (WEA), Next Generation 911 (NG911), FM radio chip activation and the FCC's Lifeline program.
Wrote, filmed and edited by Skye Featherstone
"These CCLP meetings show how industry, government, entrepreneurs and researchers can come together to reach consensus on improving public services - in this case, using cell phones as platforms for public safety and emergency preparedness," said Powell.
Participants at the January 2015 meeting included Google Vice President and "father of the Internet" Vint Cerf, and representatives from the FCC, T-Mobile, Emmis Communications, Mobile Commons, AM+G Marketing Communications, RAND Corporation, the National Institute of Justice, the Food and Drug Administration and Sprint Nextel.
"This is such a vital area," said David Turetsky, former FCC Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau Chief. "The stakes are so high on making improvements in an area where you can save lives using technology in smart ways. The focus on what we could do to move that forward and also looking down the road with the help of some of the more technology oriented participants was very useful."
Watch the FCC discuss updating the Lifeline program at its meeting this Thursday, June 18, 2015, starting at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
WASHINGTON - CCTV America must constantly battle the perception that its funders in Beijing are slanting its news broadcasts, but that may not be the case - or at least it may be an exaggeration.
That was the word from Mike Walter, a news anchor at CCTV America, who spoke at Monday's CCLP Communications Leadership Forum here in Washington DC.
"We have to work every day to build credibility," he said. "We have to work harder than other networks."
USC Annenberg journalism professor, author and historian professor and historian Richard Reeves says there is no doubt in his mind that the United States could again create concentration camps like those used during the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
"If a few incidents of terrorism happen again, we could start to round up Muslims in great numbers as we did with the Japanese with no charges except for their religion, just as the Japanese had no charges except for the color of their skin and they looked like the enemy," said Reeves. "The book is a cautionary tale. The best and the brightest and most revered of Americans were all in on this, and they knew it was unconstitutional and wrong, but it was popular."
Reeves is a senior fellow at the Center on Communication Leadership & Policy (CCLP). He spoke at a campus event to discuss his new book Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II. The book is drawing wide praise, including from the Los Angeles Times, which calls Infamy "a compulsively readable, emotionally rich and passionately written account...as cathartic as 'Antigone,'" the Sophocles tragedy.
Listen to the full audio recording of the event here. (Courtesy of Kristin Doidge)
"One of the things that have made the Annenberg School so great the last several years has been having Richard Reeves--who is really one of the nation's top political reporters and biographers and historians--on our faculty," said Geoffrey Cowan, USC University Professor and CCLP director.
Reeves said he wrote the book because of its implications for American society. "We are a people of the present and future," he said. "We don't look back very much. It's one of our strengths and one of our weaknesses."
He explained the circumstances under which the rounding up of Japanese Americans took place, including racial hysteria and fear, as well as the conditions they lived in once interned. Reeves said "jailed" is a more accurate term to describe it, rather than "interned."
One of the main revelations of Infamy is its portrayal of unlikely villains: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, California Attorney General and later U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, journalist Edward R. Murrow, Walter Lippmann, and even Dr. Seuss, all of whom were cheerleaders and ringleaders of what Reeves called "another dark stain on American history" alongside slavery and the treatment of Native Americans.
"It's a shameful but maybe instructive piece of American history, and something that we all really need to know about," said Cowan. "The thing that's so cautionary about the book is that this can happen again with the best people."
In the April 23 Los Angeles Times review, Karl Greenfield writes, "Reeves' excellent Infamy, the first popular, general history of the subject in more than 25 years, reminds us that not only can it happen here, it did."
Photos by Liz Krane
Vasily Gatov, a Russian media researcher and author based in Boston, has been named a visiting fellow with the Center on Communication Leadership & Policy. Gatov, 49, has more than 28 years of professional experience in domestic and international media.
"With his impressive background in both academia and journalism, Vasily Gatov is in a position to make an important contribution to issues of the kind that CCLP tackles on a regular basis," said CCLP director Geoffrey Cowan. "We are looking forward to research, blogs and conversations that will build on his experience with new media and with the challenges that face the Russian press, and to conversations about the role of propaganda and public diplomacy as practiced by Russian state television."