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Archive for the ‘International’ Category

The good news is that cities have been rarely divided by political extremes. Many have stories far more promising than today’s politically tainted supreme court hearings and presidential tweets.

While the nation and many states slosh around in mean-spirited ideology fights, city officials generally don’t have that luxury. They are just too busy. Every day most cities face both legal and illegal immigration issues, demands for affordable housing, homeless people living on the streets, unemployment problems, factory closures, pockets of serious poverty, children coming to school hungry, gangs and racial violence, deteriorating infrastructure, continuing police controversies, global warming consequences, aging water pipes, industry produced air pollution, and both international and homegrown terrorism threats.

But cities are also getting practical help from serious-minded professional associations, expertise sharing conferences, networks of experienced professionals, and problem-focused partnerships, all helping them bypass their politically paralyzed national and state governments.

For example, New York has been able to resist much of the pressure of Washington’s hard-line immigration and police program funding to address its problems more collectively. An active terrorism prevention partnership with Paris, France is but one example. L.A. is engaged in a wide variety of public diplomacy exchanges through its international office, and Fort Worth Texas is using citizen diplomacy to exchange ideas through its award-winning Sister Cities organization. These are but a few examples.

Many smaller cities are also dealing with both local and global issues more pragmatically. Highly experienced neighborhood volunteers, seriously concerned businesses, community problem-focused non-profits, public and private school outreach initiatives, university research and subject-matter experts, and urban-savvy arts organizations, are all becoming willing and engaged resources.

When cities face their issues head-on they also find counterparts all over the world with the same problems. An innovative city manager in Oregon is likely to find a counterpart in Asia with the same planning problems. A small town mayor in Nebraska may find a counterpart in Africa with a similar water problem. And Orlando officials are likely to find help in Amsterdam when it comes to dealing with both international and homegrown terrorism.

So while political parties fight and autocrats play bully games, imaginative cities are finding that citizen action, public-private partnerships, and public diplomacy initiatives can get the job done. You might want to read Our Towns by James and Deborah Fallows for more examples to renew your hope.

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A big media revolution lesson: Daily lying and exaggerating destroys credibility for when things really get serious.       

Mr. Trump seems to be on a roll at home. But with his longstanding record of lies and unethical behavior, attempts to befriend an experienced and cunning manipulator like Putin will likely unleash a carefully calculated response that will cleverly tuck Mr. Trump neatly under Putin’s wing.

A baby-faced dictator in North Korea is already showing the world how gaining such an upper hand with Trump can work. It’s called, “sound cooperative and then ignore him.” And you can be sure that cool-operator Putin will have a well thought-out and ultimately Trump-ignoring plan ready to go. Putin is an old hand at this game, and a rookie foreign affairs deal-maker will very likely meet his match. Trump may be much easier to trump than Trump thinks.

Trump is not the first to argue that it’s a good idea to meet and talk with adversaries. Often this is so. But in Trump’s case the odds are not on the side of a good outcome. Dictators like Putin are obsessed with maintaining their power and are constantly collecting embarrassing information about adversaries as a matter of routine. They store it, and respond with it very strategically when the need arises. And their response is not always immediate, or obvious, or even highly visible.

Putin is an experienced political enemy crusher with a passionate commitment to bringing back Russia’s national pride. Believe me, being a trustworthy and loyal friend to Trump is not in Putin’s game plan.

In the days ahead it looks like Trump will face big disappointments in both North Korea and Russia, proving that admiring sleazy dictators is no pathway to global prominence. The bottom line here is that the best way to achieve competitive advantage for the United States is to once again proudly champion the founder’s values-based “idea of America,” the “big idea” that the world still most admires.

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President Trump declared a win-win agreement following his recent North Korea Summit. Since friendly handshakes and generous praise might keep war from breaking out during future conversations, shouldn’t the president be given an enthusiastic pat on the back?

To be sure, many journalists believe that the only “fair and balanced” thing to do is to report any positive outcomes they see. And so isn’t it only fair to give credit to the president for improving his personal relationship with this dangerous dictator?

On the other hand, isn’t it also fair and balanced that every time the Singapore friendship is reported, his administration’s daily trade wars and other attacks on our allies and friends are also reported? And isn’t it also fair that every time the Singapore handshake is shown, his strutting around on the stage showing off his instinctive bully body language and puffy facial expressions to his allies is also reported? And isn’t it also fair that every time his defense of Putin is reported, examples of damages to human rights and values-based democracies are also reported?

And isn’t it also fair that every time his statements about the North Korean leader’s extraordinary talents are run, stories are also run about his abruptly ending the long negotiated agreements on trade, climate change, nuclear weapons (Iran), and his lack of knowledge and respect for the leadership and scientific talent that it took to create those agreements?

And shouldn’t photos of his schmoozing with “rocket man” be shown side by side with photos of the other dictators and autocrats he collaborates with more comfortably than with his own allies, clearly conveying his undeniable me-first, autocratic ambitions?

So if everyday is all about Trump… his tweets and pronouncements. Then all about Trump needs to be told everyday… in side-by-side stories and photos. 

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Is this actually possible? Could we be sliding toward a world ruled by autocrats? Could we be at the beginning of a new world order, one without much concern for individual freedom, human rights, and justice? I hate to say it, but the signs are not good.

What makes such a horror feasible is the unexpected outcome of a media revolution. Daily information clutter created a pervasive fog of confusion. Repeated lies began to sound true. Facts got lost in extremism. Expert debates made us confused. Excessive bad behavior no longer was shocking. Politics degenerated into television entertainment. Personal attacks were awarded with headlines. Outrageous bragging became acceptable. And it was in the growing density of this fog and confusion where a disruptive and unethical candidate could actually win… and where autocrats elsewhere in the world could also gain in influence and power.

Here is a “what if” scenario to think about: What if recently announced “attitude” changes produce a super friendly atmosphere for the North Korean talks? What if the primary outcome of these talks is a declared mutual admiration? And what if future meetings are set, invitations to visit each other are extended, and each party reports back to their constituents that they achieved something no one else has ever been able to achieve?

Can such an outcome be genuine? The problem is that in this new media ecosystem there is no way to know for sure. Truth is in verifiable details, not in the hazy fog of ego-centered double-speak. The fog has become our reality. Most of the time we can’t separate fact from fiction.

Now combine this scenario with the US president’s pronouncement that Russia should be a member of the G-7. Now also add this to recent schmoozing and friendly gestures toward autocrats in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Italy, etc. Now imagine the possibility of a new world order based on an alliance of these autocracies, with the fog of the media-ecosystem hiding the process.

Finally, picture an annual Summit attended only by these autocrats, chaired by the U.S. president. Will issues such as human rights, free trade, climate change, immigration, conservation, and clean air even be on their agenda? And what will happen to the decades old Western values of freedom, opportunity, and justice for all?

With respect to the U.S. president, a happy friend in North Korea, with photo ops to prove it, will look to his base like a huge nuclear talks victory. And flattering front and center pictures of him gloating will be all that matters to this unbridled foreign policy day-trader.

Is a new world order run by autocrats possible? The signs are not good.

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I taught international communication in the UK during summers for almost 20 years. Truthfully, I found the Royals mostly amusing, much like watching a fairy tale live on TV. And many of the British academics I knew regarded them as very expensive relics. So I guess I was never sure of their cost-benefit.

But “Prince Harry the Maverick” might have actually pulled off something quite spectacular, and just when the world needs it most. My take is that we witnessed in this wedding a game-changing inclusive coming together of many cultures, not just a Royal marrying an American. I think it’s very likely that the Harry-Meghan partnership will go on to produce other events and projects that will put human rights back on the agenda with worldwide visibility and praise. No racism! No divisiveness! No arrogance! And no Trump.

What we witnessed Saturday was a blending of some of the pomp, pageantry ,and horse-drawn carriage Royal traditions, with a more contemporary less formal wedding ceremony staged in a more comfortable chapel. Surprising many, an African-American Episcopal Bishop from Chicago delivered a very lively and quite dramatic sermon… pleading for more love in the world and an end to hunger and poverty. But the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England, administered the marriage vows in a more traditional tone. Contrasts continued, however, with a beautiful classical cello solo contrasted with a loud toe-tapping gospel music choir. When all was said and done I think most of this mixing of cultures and styles worked fine. Diana’s boys obviously had already worked their magic and the Royal family was far more ready for change than most of us realized.

So we now have a new mixed-race Royal who took off her American Hollywood makeup, exposed her natural freckles, and demonstrated that she was ready to quit her movie star job and join a full-time partnership with a different kind of Prince… a partnership with the real possibility of changing the world agenda. After all, she majored in both theater and international affairs at Northwestern University, and has already led many human rights projects in Africa and other places in the world. It’s obvious from her past volunteer projects that Meghan shares Harry’s passion for realistic world problem-solving.

So I am betting that Harry and Meghan have many more surprises up their sleeves. It should be really exciting to see what they do next. And you can be very sure the television cameras will follow wherever they go, and the news reports and tweets won’t be fake!

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If you are leading anything today, or aspire to lead something, or just want to be a more informed follower, it’s not very complicated to set up a home study experience… and if you wish, invite a group of fellow travelers to join you. This is not neuroscience!

Looking back over 50 years of seeking to understand, teach, practice, and write about communication, I believe that serious discussions and internet searches of topics similar to those below can yield the necessary knowledge and insights for leading in today’s world. Here’s my list:

  1. Describe why communication always seems to fail… and what (if anything) can be done about it.
  2. Search the internet for insights from communication and media research.
  3. Describe ways media revolutions significantly changed society, individuals, and audiences.
  4. List ways to intelligently consume and use 24/7 journalism.
  5. Identify the many troubling characteristics of the ever-pervasive new media ecosystem.
  6. Describe ways that media have become weapons, and fake news.
  7. List personal benefits and hazards of social media.
  8. Describe best ways to use digital media for direct and interactive communication.
  9. Identify ways to make sure brand identities are authentic and clear.
  10. Describe processes for orchestrating one-voice messaging.
  11. Show how to use small groups for problem-solving.
  12. Identify the essential elements of productive meetings.
  13. List common internal politics issues and ways to address them.
  14. Clarify best methods for resolving conflicts.
  15. Find examples of using soft-power in local and foreign relationship-building.
  16. List the requirements for effective partnerships and allies.
  17. Write rules for constructive speech in a new media world.

It is absolutely essential to have enough informed, talented, articulate, values-driven, and courageous leaders and followers ready, willing, and able to help save the day when it’s needed. With our current media clutter, endless confusion, and total political chaos, that day has come.

Last weekend we may have witnessed the next generation getting ready to take on dramatic change. And these young people are also born searchers and tweeters. So either the weekend was just another mass march, or it was an entire generation suddenly awakening to the real possibility that they can make history. Indeed they can… but only if they really have the will.

In retrospect, I decided to bet on them. How about you?

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Russia has been engaging in information warfare for a very long time. The recent U.S. Justice Department indictment of three Russian organizations and 13 Russian agents for meddling in the 2016 presidential election is a clear explanation of the destructive intentions of fake news.

Russia’s goals: Hurt the Clinton campaign; promote the Trump campaign ; divide and inflame voters on issues such as race, healthcare, police, climate change, etc.; and undermine general voter confidence in American democracy.

Let me first unpack what this indictment is and is not. It is only about social media attacks. It is not about the impact of computer hacking and WikiLeaks on the election. It does not address the potential “obstruction of justice’ issue. And it does not address “witting” campaign”collusion” with Russians, or potential blackmail situations. Each of these are separate investigations, and will be addressed by special counsel later.

The thirty-seven page indictment does, however, describe how “fake news” is generated and where it is placed in social media platforms:

  • Positive and negative advertising, as well as divisive messages (often made-up lies), were placed inside Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and other social media platforms. Some platforms have added news features which have been compromised.
  • “Theme pages” were created to distribute misinformation to special interest groups, i.e. Islam, Healthcare, Pro-life, etc.
  • Individual U.S. citizen identities were stolen with thousands of divisive and anger-producing messages sent from them, using an automated feature called “bots.” Fictitious identities were also created and used in the same way.
  • Russians also collaborated on campaign initiatives with “unwitting” Trump campaign people, who were apparently unaware they were working with Russians.
  • Russian agents also came to the U.S. and staged separate campaigns, heckled rallies, and sought out unknowing but sympathetic American collaborators.
  • And of course many of these ads, messages and staged events were picked up and reported as real news by the mainstream and 24/7 cable media.
  • It is reported that Russian information warfare in ongoing, and following the recent school shooting is now focused on support for gun rights.

This indictment provides solid information to help us understand social media warfare no matter what country it emanates from. Russia has been perfecting their techniques for years in Europe, and is highly experienced at infiltrating political systems long before political campaigns begin. They offer politicians and government officials  real estate deals in Russia, buy property in their target countries, and watch for opportunities to set up individual blackmail traps.

A report titled “The Kremlin Playbook” is available at The Center for Strategic and International Studies (csis.org) in Washington. It is an eye-opening read and provides more details on how Russians wage information warfare.

When nations, institutions, and their leaders use social media platforms such as twitter to spread disinformation, and then spread more confusion by attacking otherwise trustworthy journalists as fake news, civil society will simply cease to exist.

 

 

 

 

 

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