September 2, 2005

Words Mean Things: Katrina Survivors are NOT “Refugees”

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Bias,MSM Biz/Other Ignorance — Tom @ 12:51 pm

Definitions of “refugee,” from

– One who flees in search of refuge, as in times of war, political oppression, or religious persecution.

– An individual seeking refuge or asylum; especially an individual who has left his or her native country and is unwilling or unable to return to it because of persecution or fear of persecution (as because of race, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion).

– An exile who flees for safety.

So why are Katrina survivors labeled “refugees” in mainstream media reports? Just three of dozens of examples: here, here (7th para), and here (2nd para). I have also heard the word used (obviously in error) in numerous TV accounts.

And to what end? Are our reporters and editors merely vocabulary-challenged, or are they trying to make some kind of crude point?

UPDATE: A commenter thinks the third definition (“exile who flees for safety”) fits.

So let’s go the to non-Biblical noun definitions of exile:

(first set)
1a. Enforced removal from one’s native country.
1b. Self-imposed absence from one’s country.
2. The condition or a period of living away from one’s native country.
3. One who lives away from one’s native country, whether because of expulsion or voluntary absence.

The key word in all of these is country–not city, not state, not parish.

(second set)
1. voluntarily absent from home or country [syn: expatriate]
2. expelled from home or country by authority [syn: deportee]
3. the act of expelling a person from their native land; “men in exile dream of hope”; “his deportation to a penal colony”; “the expatriation of wealthy farmers”; “the sentence was one of transportation for life” [syn: deportation, expatriation, transportation] v : expel from a country; “The poet was exiled because he signed a letter protesting the government’s actions” [syn: expatriate, deport] [ant: repatriate]

The key word in Item 1 is “voluntarily”–not the case with the hurricane and the levee breaks. The key point in Items 2 and 3 are “by authority” and “the act”–It’s the hurricane and the levee breaks that did the expelling; the authorities simply used the logic of trying to keep everyone safe when they ordered an evacuation. That doesn’t change what the reason (not man-made) for the evacuation was. An added bonus in Items 2 and 3 is that a synonym for “exile” is “deportee,” which these victims are certainly not.

Finally, my MS Word Thesaurus tells me that the synonyms for “refugee” include person in exile; immigrant; migrant; and expatriate. No fits there, either.

So, in sum: Nice try, no sale–the use of the word “refugee” is incorrect, and would only be correct if we moved Katrina’s survivors to Mexico or Canada (out of the “country”). Only at that point would they become “exiles.”

So the big question remains: With all of the other correct words available (evacuees, survivors, those displaced, those made homeless by, etc., etc.) why pick a word that is plainly wrong?

UPDATE 2: Comment 3 goes to wiki and other sources to find that the least-used definition of refugee (the one containing the word “exile”) can then be taken to describe the Katrina survivors. As you will see from Comment 4, I think it’s a verrrrry long stretch, if it’s usable at all.

The ultimate point is that in 35 years of following news stories, I have NEVER seen victims of US natural disasters characterized as “refugees.” SO WHY NOW?

UPDATE 3: Conservative Culture agrees: “If you don’t think that this isn’t being framed as a political watershed moment, think again. Already the nation is using the term refuge(e). This word is being used intentionally and don’t dismiss what might be excused as a too casual use of the term….. We might dismiss it except for the political posturing and rheteroric already in full swing.”

UPDATE 4: Now THIS is really something. Michelle Malkin notes that African-American pot-stirrers (certainly not frequent BizzyBlog allies) are objecting to the use of the term “refugee” because it “calls up to mind people that come from different lands and have to be taken care of.” Well, yeah (although it could have been more eloquently expressed) that’s my point too.

I also e-mailed Michelle and, among other points, opined that her prior cites misused the word “refugee” even more obviously than I believe it is being misused with Katrina’s survivors, and that I question the frequency of the word’s prior use in prior natural disasters. Again, I have NEVER heard the term used until Katrina in any news accounts relating to US natural disasters.

So, in sum, I’m still holding out with my once-in-a-blue-moon agreers–the use of the word is at a minimum sloppy and inappropriate when so many other accurately descriptive terms are available, and at most, based on the preponderance of the evidence, just plain wrong.

UPDATE 5: Google News past-day searches as of 11:30 AM on September 7 (without quotes in search):
- hurricane refugees: 3,040
- hurricane evacuees: 5,500
- hurricane victims: 8,360

I didn’t include “hurricane survivors” because many of them are still in the affected areas and haven’t left. There’s some consolation that “refugee” is used less than 20% of the time, and there appears to be a bit more reluctance to use the term (based on random looks at TV reports). I still believe the term “refugee” is just plain wrong, and have seen nothing that would persuade me otherwise. It may well be that the dictionaries will get “updated” to reflect the misunderstood usage in the next few years; if so, language sloppiness will have won the day yet again.

UPDATE 6, Sept. 7, 8PM This AP piece focuses on the word’s use, and the President weighs in (bolds mine):

“The people we’re talking about are not refugees,” he said. “They are Americans and they need the help and love and compassion of our fellow citizens.”

The 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention describes a refugee as someone who has fled across an international border to escape violence or persecution. But the Webster’s New World Dictionary defines it more broadly as “a person who flees from home or country to seek refuge elsewhere, as in a time of war or of political or religious persecution.

Hello? What in either definition fits the current circumstances. The second definition bold shows that the definition relates to man-made events.

Bizzy’s Biz Links of the Day (090205)

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Privacy/ID Theft — Tom @ 9:32 am

Interesting business items I’ve come across in the past few days:

– The latest preferred targets of identity thieves:

  • Online resume posters
  • People accused by crooks pretending to be county government officials of skipping jury duty (UPDATE: More detail on how the ID theft attempt works)
  • Teens, especially those who have no existing credit files.
  • I’ll add one of my own: Katrina victims, who could have their identities stolen in a variety of ways. Just a couple might include people posing as aid workers who get personal information “for relief agency purposes,” and looters who stayed behind breaking into people’s homes and going through personal files. UPDATE: This article notes the danger.

– Economist Jude Wanniski died a few days ago.

Wanniski is the father of supply-side economics, whose basic premise is that reducing marginal tax rates will spur economic growth and entrepreneurship to such an extent that tax collections will actually increase despite the lower rates. This is of course what happened with the tax cuts of the early 1980s, which moved the economy from near-depression, double-digit inflation, and very high unemployment to an unprecedented boom. The situation appears to be replaying itself with the Bush 2001-2002 tax cuts, though it’s too early to definitively say so.

Here is James Glassman’s piece on Wanniski (HT Driscoll), which notes that his life’s record will probably not be seen as 100% stellar.

– Lenovo (the Chinese government-controlled company that bought IBM’s personal computer business earlier this year) wants to dominate the personal computer business:

PURCHASE, New York— Top Chinese personal computer maker Lenovo Group will start to sell its namesake personal computers outside China in the first quarter of next year as part of its long-term plan to build the world’s leading PC brand, its chief executive told Reuters.

Lenovo’s PC shipments in China were three times those of its closest rival in the second quarter, but it has only recently broken into the international market in a big way, with its $1.25 billion acquisition of International Business Machines Corp.’s PC unit.

Lenovo will make IBM’s flagship Thinkpad laptops available in Lenovo stores shortly. The acquisition has made it the third-biggest global PC vendor behind Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

“We want to grow Lenovo into a worldwide brand,” CEO Steve Ward said. “In five years, we will have a strong chance to be the leading brand in PC.”

Whether Lenovo could achieve that goal depends on whether it can add new functions and drive costs down, Ward said.

The company spends 1.5 percent of its revenue on research, about twice the standard rate for the industry. It has plans to set up research centers in North Carolina and Beijing.

The former IBM business posted a surprising profit in the quarter through June, thanks to cost cutting efforts. The entire company reported a net profit of HK$357 million ($45.94 million), up from HK$336.8 million last year when it did not have the IBM unit.

This bears watching, especially if the Chinese government heavily subsidizes Lenovo through tax breaks or lower raw material costs from other government-controlled firms.