What Should the Press Cover?

by Conor Friedersdorf

Here's one suggestion:

I read with great interest your plea for stories that the media generally misses out on, and my thoughts immediately turned to something I read about a long time ago, but which hasn’t been covered since, or in particularly great depth. I refer to the U.S. takeover of the agricultural industry in Iraq. The article was written at the height of the war and was concerned with how the Big Agri-business interests in the U.S. basically forced upon Iraqi farmers new strains of wheat and other produce, which necessitates the annual purchase of new seeds (from U.S. companies) since these new strains don’t produce seed themselves. This, in contrast to historical farming practices of saving and propagating the best growing/producing/ most resilient seed stock, constantly improving yields and enabling ongoing adaptation to changing climate conditions. I would love to see some more detailed coverage of this practice, whether it is widespread in other war-ravaged countries (such as Afghanistan), the real effect on farmers, what new profit streams are emerging through this practice of war profiteering and how this might affect agricultural practices in these countries in the future (i.e. will Iraqi farmers forevermore be beholden to U.S. corporations?), and whether this might be happening in other industries as well (for example, do U.S. or western corps have interests in water supply, the pharmaceutical industry etc, and how has this changed since the start of the war? Usually it is only the oil industry that is scrutinized in any detail, it would be interesting to know more about corporate stakes in these other areas. I have no suggestions as to who might cover this story, but I’m sure it’s worth some scrutiny.

And another:

Story: The Strategic Blunder that is U.S. Policy regarding the Eritrea-Ethiopia Border
Written by: Terrence Lyons
For a variety of reasons, the U.S., UN, and others dropped the ball big time in the way it handled the implementation of Algiers Agreement (the peace agreement reached between Eritrea and Ethiopia following their 1998-2000 border war).  The mishandling of the peace process and the intransigence of both belligerents has led to a stalemate that has serious implications for U.S. interests in the Horn of Africa.  Make no mistake, this is THE story of the region.

In 2006 Lyons wrote a brief for the Council on Foreign Relations about the situation, outlining reasonable steps that all parties could take to resolve the issue.  Those recommendations went largely unheeded, and the situation today is no better, with Eritrea and Ethiopia essentially continuing their conflict by proxy in Somalia.

A third:

Here's one story that I think has been missed by both MSM and blogosphere - the impact of the market crash on the newly retired and those about to retire.

A couple of anecdotes, fully understanding that the plural of anecdote is not data:

A 3rd grade teacher at the school where I teach retired (after more than 40 years of teaching 3rd grade!!) at the end of the 07-08 school year.  This fall she is back on campus subbing every chance she gets.  When we talked about it, she told me that the market crash had wiped out enough of her and her husband's investments that she had to go back to work if they were to have any more than the most bare-bones of lifestyles.

Secondly, several conversations with older peers (those aged around 60) have included statements of the class of : "I was planning to retire in year x.  However now it will be x+y."

I think that there are two aspects to this story.  One is macroeconomic. If people aren't choosing to retire, then it becomes that much harder for jobs to open up, and therefore for the unemployment rate to go down.

The second aspect is almost moral. These are people who "played by the rules" - who believed the part of the social contract which  stated, in effect "if you put aside x% of your income for y years then you will be able to have a comfortable retirement" and are now finding out that this is very far from the truth.

Why isn't this being covered?  If you'll allow me to get a bit meta, the blogosphere skews young (both in readers and, more importantly, writers.) But I'd love to see someone with a good grasp of both econ and demographics take a stab at this.

And a fourth:

The main stream media totally ignored President Obama’s recent announcement before Chinese students in Shanghai that “the United States will dramatically expand the number of our students who study in China to 100,000.” Written info at the time explained only that the expansion would be over four years. Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, said in a more recent webcast that the program would include all education levels: high school for three or four month, undergraduate for an academic year, and graduate level. I’ve seen no further details.

There is no bigger long-term strategic issue than US-China relations. Progress on all global issues from climate change to pandemics to economics to many security issues and more depend up cooperation with China. The US is way under investing in developing the skills and knowledge that our next generations will need to work with China successfully. Many more students need to learn Mandarin and to spend time in China. Both our economic and national security futures depend upon it. Currently less than 1% of US K-12 students study any Mandarin. Only 16 US high school students, as reported by CSIET, studied for a semester or year in China in 2008/09. In 2007/08, 13,165 US college students studied in China. China has almost 100,000 university students studying in the US each year. Tom Ricks reported on his blog that in 2000 the Chinese military had more students in U.S. graduate schools than the U.S. military did. A related, overlooked shortcoming of American education is that it does not pay to send high school students to study abroad. This is a strategic shame because many high school year abroad programs (including tuition, room and board with a family, and international transportation) cost less than the per pupil spending in many states or local school districts...

The US could easily have 100,000 high school students alone studying in China each year. With something over 3 million nationwide per US high school class, having 100,000 high school students studying in China would only be about 3 percent of a US graduating class. Strategically this is, IMHO, where the US should be in terms of numbers. If US states and local school districts paid for China study abroad like they now pay for in-district programs, and the Chinese cooperated, sending 100,000 high school student to China need not cost any additional funds. Currently we seem to lack the strategic vision to do this... Obama’s announcement was very significant. I hope it is just the start of a strategic push to have many more US students studying in China.