Thursday, June 14, 2007

Beyond Fear Audio and Transcripts Now Available

So many of the decisions being made in US foreign policy and national security seem to be driven by (or justified by) fear. But there are other ways for Americans to look at the world.

In the past and in the present, the United States has found ways to provide positive, global leadership. The radio production team at the Stanley Foundation went looking for those examples.

The result is a brand new radio documentary, "Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain World."

The program features reports from Djibouti, Ukraine, India, and Aceh along with interviews of Colin Powell, Sam Nunn, Richard Lugar, Kenneth Bacon, and more. This is the fourth documentary the foundation has done with David Brancaccio (host of the PBS program NOW) and the documentary once again concludes with an essay from David putting the reporting and analysis into a larger, more meaningful context.

All of the documentary material, plus photos and complete interviews (audio and transcripts) are now available here.

"Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain World" is produced by Simon Marks, Kristin McHugh, and Keith Porter. It is a Stanley Foundation production in association with KQED Public Radio.

Friday, May 11, 2007

San Francisco: Sunny and Warm

Simon Marks, Kristin McHugh, and I arrived in San Francisco on what must have been the warmest May day in years. Ninety degree temperatures are not what I expect from the Bay Area, but it was a welcome surprise.

Our panel discussion in the KQED atrium, a preview of "Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain World," was moderated by NPR's Richard Gonzales. Kristin played her segment from Djibouti along with many slides. Simon, who reported on nuclear issues in Ukraine and India for the radio documentary, gave a preview of a similar piece is is working on for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Nu Nu Kidane of the Priority Africa Network also served on the panel.

The turnout for the event was small, but the discussion was passionate and invigorating. Special thanks to Gonzales as well as Elaine Shen and her community engagement team from KQED for all their work. I hope we can do this again!
--Keith Porter

Friday, May 4, 2007

KQED Readies for National Premiere

The final touches to "Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain World" are being applied. And Kristin, Simon, and I are in a mood to celebrate.

So we are headed to San Francisco for a gathering at KQED... and you are invited!
Monday, May 7
6-8 p.m.
KQED Atrium
2601 Mariposa Street
San Francisco, California

We invite you to join us for a panel discussion to explore new scenarios for US global leadership built on common action, trust, and hope—the subject of a new radio documentary from KQED Public Radio and the Stanley Foundation, "Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain World."
Panelists include Simon Marks, coproducer of Beyond Fear and an independent broadcaster whose reports air regularly on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, the Fox News Channel, and MarketPlace; Kristin McHugh, coproducer of Beyond Fear and program officer at the Stanley Foundation; and Nu Nu Kidane of the African Action Network.

NPR's Richard Gonzales will moderate the discussion. The panel will present previews of the audio and video segments of their reports from India, Ukraine, Indonesia, and the Horn of Africa and lead the audience in a discussion of how global security and our own sense of security at home are linked.

Hope to see you there. Don't forget, "Beyond Fear" will premiere on KQED on May 9 at 8 p.m and be available for nationwide distribution the next day. Contact Ken Mills at (763) 513-9988 for carriage details.
--Keith Porter

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Red Wagon of Culver City

After months of the planning, overseas travel, reporting, and scripting it all comes down to what we call in the radio biz the “final mix.” And it’s my job to make sure the final mix is flawless. If you’ve ever worked in radio, you know the process it takes to complete the final program isn’t as easy as it sounds.

We entrust this momentous task to Rima Snyder of Red Wagon Audio.

Like Larry Josephson, Rima works from the comfort of her home. Her Culver City, California house was built on what used to be the back lot of MGM Studios, so it somehow seems fitting that the final mix happens in the shadows of Hollywood.

There are dozens of people who could engineer the final mix, but why fix something when it isn’t broken? Rima has worked the past six Stanley Foundation/KQED radio specials. My ProTools skills aren’t too shabby, but Rima is a PT whiz.

With Rima’s trusty dog Willa at our feet, Rima works her magic as I offer up direction, suggestions and comments.

It doesn’t take long to reach the point every producer dreads: trimming the script to fit the clock. I long for the day when I can honestly say we added material to a show!

It’s easy to get married to every single piece of audio we intended to put into the show. That’s why it is sometimes downright painful to leave fabulous material on the imaginary “edit room floor.” It takes countless text messages, IM exchanges, e-mails, and conference calls with Simon and Keith. Rima patiently awaits the final decision (and offers up condolences as she trims away).

We successfully hit the magic time of 52:59 today. It will take us a few more days to “polish” up the final product. Anxious to hear the final result? Beyond Fear: America’s Role in an Uncertain World debuts on KQED Public Radio on May 9 at 8:00pm PDT. National distribution begins the next day.

--Kristin McHugh

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Fighting the Cold War in New Jersey

A vacant lot in suburban New Jersey is not on my usual reporting itinerary for radio documentaries on international affairs. But there we were last week, creating a human wind buffer as David Brancaccio recorded his closing essay for "Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain World."

The documentary is all about looking for ways the United States can interact with the world that aren't driven by fear... and the benefits this could accrue to our national security. This line of thought reminded David of the abandoned Nike missile defense system which used to ring New York City. He had stumbled across part of the system's remains while bike riding near his Maplewood, NJ home.

So he incorporated the missiles into his closing essay using them as a symbol of the fear Americans felt during the Cold War. And then he suggested we actually go to the site to collect some natural sound and record his reading. Kristin, Simon, and I loved the idea because we are always looking for ways to inject as much sound richness as possible into these documentaries.

After leaving Larry Josephson's recording studio in Manhattan we went to Penn Station and caught the New Jersey Transit train to Maplewood. There David used his trusty GPS navigation devices to find what is now a nearly empty expanse of land amid a purely American suburb. The site has winding, narrow pavement in a path which ultimately loops back on itself. There are small, assorted concrete platforms and manhole covers in various locations and a rusty, overgrown chain link fence topped by barbed wire.

After poking around a bit we pulled out the recording equipment and tried to find a place and a position which could at least minimize the noise of a steady, brisk breeze. While David was nearing the end of the first take, a police patrol car cruised slowly through the site. I was sure we would be asked to leave... trespassing and all that... but the car completed the pavement circuit and kept right on going.

I guess the site of radio documentarians practicing their craft is more common in New Jersey than I assumed.
--Keith Porter

Friday, April 13, 2007

Larry's Place

Last week, David Brancaccio, Kristin McHugh, Simon Marks, and I gathered in Larry Josephson's Manhattan radio studio to record David's narration for the documentary "Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain World." All of you in the public radio world have met Larry or know him by reputation. He was present at the creation of our industry and not much more needs to be said.

But his base of operation is worth further description. This fifth floor apartment on Central Park West is his home as well as the workplace for a small staff of people. It is infused with an amazing collection of radio equipment and paraphernalia, although "collection" may give it too much of a sense of organization. David quipped that this is probably what his home would look like if he didn't have others regulating his purchase of old microphones and gizmo treasures.

Sylvester the cat, wandering through the rooms, gives the place a very civilized and homey vibe. People love recording at Larry's place certainly because of the excellent sound quality and technical expertise of the staff. But the comfortable feel of the place adds a relaxation and warmth to the aural experience which cannot be quantified. And I have no doubt that it adds to the success of our projects.

In the tiny, un-remodeled bathroom, the modern office phone hanging precariously over the stool has a laminated sheet with the speed dial codes for an impressive array of international news organizations and area food delivery operations. For a moment I thought about grabbing the phone and pushing the button marked "NPR Washington Desk" before regaining my professional composure.

Later, standing in the recording booth, I looked at the rows of reel-to-reel tapes holding raw interview audio. The spines read Woody Allen, Nelson Mandela, Bob and Ray, and so on. On that day we had to finish up on time because Alec Baldwin was headed in next to read some scripts.

Kristin and David in the recording booth

A while back I saw that Julia Child's kitchen had been carefully disassembled and reconstructed as a permanent display at the Smithsonian. I wonder if they could do that with Larry's place?

--Keith Porter

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dateline: 600 Feet Below Ground Somewhere in India

Several years ago, after safely returning to the surface from my 5th reporting visit to the coal-mines of Eastern Europe, I decided that as far as the mining industry is concerned I had very much "been there, done that". Unlike the poor men who have little alternative but to grind out a living down some of the deadliest pits in the world, I was there by choice. And from then on, I chose not to return to some of the most cramped and potentially deadly working environments on the planet.

So, it was with some trepidation that I travelled to Jadaguda, 900 miles south-east of Delhi, at the invitation of the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL).

It's the operator of India's uranium mines - and the folks at UCIL were good enough to allow us to record a significant chunk of "Beyond Fear" 600 feet below ground in one of their mining complexes.

Never having visited a uranium mine, I wasn't sure what to expect. It's not like a coal-mine at all: you can't actually see the uranium, which has to be detected through various radiation tests before the mining engineers can be told where to deploy their drills.

Once deployed, they mine around 2500 tons of rock from the cavernous, spacious tunnels that have been dug in the ground here. That rock is then pulverised; the powdered rock is turned into a slurry; and it's from that slurry that the uranium is derived.

Ramdendra Gupta, the head of UCIL, used to work in India's deepest gold mine. He transitioned to the uranium industry because, he says, it has "growth potential."

It certainly does. As India's population grows and its economy rises, the country has a desperate need for new sources of power. Currently, the country's nuclear power stations only supply 3 per cent of India's electricity. Mr. Gupta wants to see that figure rise seven-fold.

The Bush administration wants to help him get his way.

The proposed US-India nuclear agreement will permit co-operation with India's civil nuclear program, and allow the country to import supplies of uranium, even though it's one of only 4 states that fails to honor the Non Proliferation Treaty. (North Korea, Pakistan and Israel are the other three).

Critics of the deal say it will doom the global non-proliferation regime, and that the US is being inconsistent by permitting India to develop its nuclear program - both civil, and military - while insisting North Korea and Iran cannot develop theirs.

Indian officials tell us their country's democratic fiber is strong, and that as a rapidly-rising power in the region, they both need a nuclear program, and can be trusted with them. The redoubtable Mr. Gupta also points out that UCIL has been mining uranium here since the 1960s, and that India's nuclear program will continue whether the deal with the US goes ahead or not.

You'll hear more of his views in "Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain Role" - the first American radio program to have been recorded, in part, down an Indian uranium mine.

--Simon Marks

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Ex-Rebel with a Cause

While the 2004 tsunami will long be remembered in history books as an unprecedented natural disaster, the big wave isn't the only hardship Aceh is struggling to overcome.

For decades before that fateful December day in 2004, Aceh was embroiled in a conflict for independence from the Indonesian government. As unbelievable as it seems, the tsunami's death and destruction helped bring about the one thing many in Aceh had been hoping for for years: peace.

A landmark peace accord was signed in 2005 and the province's first democratic elections were held last December. A former rebel commander was elected governor.

Much of the humanitarian aid flowing to Aceh is directed toward the immediate needs of food, housing, and infrastructure. But a small portion of the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID) assistance is funding projects aimed at securing and keeping the peace.

In the small mountain village of Ronga Ronga, nearly an eight-hour drive from Banda Aceh, former fighters of the Free Aceh Movement are helping to construct a new town market.

The project, implemented by the International Organization on Migration (IOM) with assistance from USAID, will provide more than a dozen new stalls for Ronga Ronga's merchants. The community, in consultation with IOM, decided collectively it wanted a new market.

It is here that Jocelyn and I meet Joni, a charismatic 27-year old with a boyish grin.

He joined the Free Aceh Movement in 1999 after he says he was beaten and tortured by the Indonesian military. Joni quickly moved up the ranks and ultimately commanded a platoon of fighters, many of whom remained by his side during our visit.

Joni is a self-described contractor. He tells us he provided wood and other construction materials for the market. He won the job after IOM determined a portion of the work must be provided by former combatants.

Illegal logging is a problem in this part of Indonesia, so it is very likely the wood Joni supplied to the market project came from less-than-legal sources. Even so, he says the market planning process brought a level of unprecedented transparency; transparency he and aid organizers hope will rub off on government and community leaders.

Joni is using the money he made as a contractor on the market project to purchase several chicks and to finance a small chili farm behind the home he shares with his grandmother and other family members. The small plot of hot peppers is cut into the hillside of thick jungle cover a couple hundred yards behind Joni's house.

Joni hopes the first chili crop will earn him 5,000,000 Indonesian Rupiah (roughly $541.00). He says he will add his profits along with money from other ex-rebels to expand the chili farm and possibly add a small coffee operation. Joni will know in about a month whether or not his first chili planting will yield maximum results.

Meanwhile, work on the market continues. On the day we visited, two men were hand preparing concrete for a section of the market's open floor.

Reviews of the market are mixed. One woman told Jocelyn she is looking forward to moving her small business into a "clean" stall. But this fish seller says she doesn't want to move her rickety, wooden stand.

Her stand sits precariously along side the main road in Ronga Ronga, perfect for drive-up purchases.

She fears she will lose business if people have to get off their motorbikes or leave their vehicles and walk the extra 20-30 feet to the new market.

As our driver carefully navigates the narrow, twisting, and long road back to Banda Aceh, I can only hope the market project and Joni's chili crop is successful. Both projects may seem small, but they have the ability to bring a sense of economic stability to a region in desperate need of peace and security. Joni bluntly told me what he would do if his crop fails and if he can't find additional contracting work. He simply said he would "rob" from people to make ends meet.

--Kristin McHugh

Reality Strikes Again

I have spent quite a bit of time driving around Aceh in the past few days. Amid the obvious destruction and reconstruction, the beautiful tranquility of this small part of the world is front and center everytime I leave the hustle and bustle of Banda Aceh.

The breathtaking views from the road are like scenes from an exotic travel poster (and my photos clearly do NOT do justice to what my naked eye can see).

From the moment that I arrived, I've had these lingering, nagging thoughts. When (not if) will this region suffer another devastating earthquake and tsunami? Will all of the reconstruction come crashing down again?

So I was a bit startled to learn upon arriving back at my hotel from an extended trip to Aceh's highlands that a powerful earthquake struck western Sumatra this morning. The quake and at least one powerful aftershock caused extensive damage near the epicenter and killed dozens.

I was around 500 miles from the the epicenter, and I can honestly say that I didn't feel a thing. But the idea that my nagging thoughts could come true at any moment will likely keep me awake a bit longer tonight.
--Kristin McHugh

Sunday, March 4, 2007

It's All About the Benjamins

If you've ever traveled overseas to an out-of-the-way place, you will know that converting US dollars into local currency is not easy. The age, condition, and serial numbers of US bills, things we don't think twice about in the States, are of the utmost importance overseas. Bills that don't meet the "required" specifications command less on the exchange market or are outright worthless.

Local banks and businesses say American dollars are always welcome in Banda Aceh. But I quickly learned this week that only a small percentage of what is in circulation is acceptable. No one will accept a US bill of any denomination printed in 1996. The reputable bank in a busy shopping district also won't accept bills with the slightest crease or tear. Even worse the same bank will not accept any of the new color US currency. Never mind that that colorful stack of Indonesian Rupiah the bank teller handed me is full of less-than-perfect bills.

Keith Porter and I have run into similar problems in Africa and the Middle East, so I wasn't surprised when the bank teller rejected the first few bills I handed her. I wasn't prepared for her to reject nearly all I had intended to change. It turns out, nearly 75% of the currency I have is not acceptable or commands a rate so far below the exchange value that it isn't worth my time to trade it.

As my friends and family will tell you, I always have at least one or two backup plans. So I will be able to eat and pay my bills here this week. But my personal experience at the bank illustrates just how difficult it can be to adapt to a different set of norms.

In the 26 months since the tsunami, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is learning that cultural differences can get in the way of good intentions. USAID's flagship reconstruction project here is a planned 150 mile road connecting two important cities in Aceh province. The road system here was less-than-ideal before the tsunami. A solid transportation system is critical now to help rebuild the region.

A large sign just outside of Banda Aceh marks the beginning of the planned road. USAID is financing the actual road construction while a complex Indonesian system is responsible for acquiring the land necessary to complete the new road.

But there is little evidence the "new" road will be completed anytime soon. Cost overruns, land acquisition problems, government red-tape, and local complaints about a temporary road adjacent to the showcase road have brought the planned project to a near standstill.

A new report issued by the US Government Accountability Office heavily criticizes USAID for its management of the road project. The latest plan trims 60 miles from the original proposed length. The shorter "new road" will then be linked to a section constructed by the Japanese.

So far, USAID officials in Indonesia won't talk on the record to Jocelyn and I about the road project. But in the March 2nd edition of The Jakarta Post, USAID's deputy director for Indonesia cited unforeseen issues brought about by an "exceptional" disaster.

The spokesperson for GAM, the Free Aceh Movement, acknowledges there have been problems but he believes the issues have been ironed out. He also says the problems with the road project should not overshadow the good work USAID and others are doing to help rebuild Aceh.

Perhaps the best people to judge the road project are affected landowners. This man and his family in the tiny village of Meudheun, more than two hours outside of Banda Aceh, will lose their current home when the section of pavement in front of his house is widened. He supports the road project, but he has yet to sell his land. He says the money offered is less than the land's value, and he's holding out for more.

Much closer to Banda Aceh a 23-year old affected landowner exclaimed, "USA good," when we asked him whether or not he is happy about the project. He told us he plans to use the money he earns from the sale of his land to rebuild and fulfill his dream of becoming a teacher.

In the end it seems whether it is a road project or currency exchange, it all boils down to the value of the Benjamins (Franklin, that is... the face on $100.00 US bills).

--Kristin McHugh

Friday, March 2, 2007

Banda Aceh: One Moment In Time

Driving through the bustling, traffic-jammed streets of Banda Aceh, it is difficult to imagine that much of this city was washed away by the 2004 tsunami. So perhaps it is fitting that the Indonesian lounge singer at the first (and only) "5-star" hotel here was belting out an off-tune version of Whitney Houston's "One Moment in Time" as I walked through the lobby this evening.

It took only a few moments to change the face of Aceh province forever. In the coastal areas, all that wasn't damaged by the near-record earthquake on December 26, 2004, was swept into the ocean a few hours later.

I was horrified as I watched the television coverage of the tsunami 26 months ago, so I was expecting the worst as I landed in Banda Aceh. I was surprised by the hustle and bustle. Ahmady, the local journalist guiding Jocelyn Ford and I around Aceh, is somewhat surprised too. He says there was little traffic in what is commonly called "pre-tsunami" days.

Don't get me wrong, signs of the tsunami are everywhere. Empty garbage strewn lots dot the landscape....

...while temporary housing structures of all kinds sit next to newly built homes of all sizes.

If I didn't know there was a tsunami I could easily mistake Banda Aceh as a developing, if not thriving, coastal community. But then the huge ship still sitting on top of a house roughly a mile from the beach quickly snaps me back to reality.

The post-tsunami aid is full of good intentions, but it has also created some new problems. For example, some communities get better houses than others.

As I watch the sunset on a beach on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, it is clear progress is being made, but the pace of that progress may be as difficult to judge as the time it takes to get across town in the midday rush-hour.

--Kristin McHugh

Monday, February 26, 2007

Farewell Djibouti

Before leaving Djibouti, Kristin, Malcolm and I had a chance to wander around the city center. The market was crowded, loud, and colorful.

This fruit seller runs one of hundreds of kiosks in the large market.

Djibouti has become infamous for the amount of khat, a hallucinogenic plant, the people there consume. We were in the market when the day's supply of khat was delivered. While some dealers were adamant that we not take photographs, we found person willing to let us get this shot.

Here is our field production team, Keith Porter, Kristin McHugh, and Malcolm Brown standing just inside the main entry to Camp Lemonier in Djibouti.

--Keith Porter

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Working Together for the Benefit of All

Elementary School #2 in Tadjoura feels like a very happy place... despite the dusty, sandy grounds, the spartan buildings, and the deep poverty.

The classes, conducted in French, are full of smiling children. There is a computer lab here for training teachers in the region. The equipment came from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The lunch room was gutted and renovated by the U.S. military.

And the storeroom contains bags of food donated by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the World Food Programme.

We've learned a lot in the last few days about the military's development efforts here in the Horn of Africa. So it was nice to spend this day visiting a school and health clinic with USAID's country coordinator for Djibouti, Janet Schulman.

One of the most controversial areas I want to examine on this trip is the good and bad of having the U.S. military engaged in development and diplomacy work normally associated with agencies like the State Department and USAID. The military clearly has the resources and command structure to make a lot of things happen on the ground... and fast.

Some worry, however, that the new roles could degrade the military's traditional defense capabilities. Others are afraid the military's new efforts will lack cultural context and sensitivity and won't be integrated with other parts of U.S. and international development efforts.

But Janet Schulman has nothing but good things to say about what the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa is doing in Djibouti.

"The military has always had a civilian affairs unit. And rather than have them roaming around the country willy-nilly, constructing things that may or may not be useful and may or may not be a priority for the community, I think us [military and USAID] coming together, planning together, and executing projects together is to the benefit of all," she said.

Schulman adds, "They [the Djiboutians] are growing to trust Americans."

--Keith Porter