Saturday, June 25, 2005

Day off

It's difficult to post today. Hopefully I'll have something tomorrow.

In the meantime, I thought I would leave you with an oldie but a goodie. This, from Bryan Appleyard in the Sunday London Times, has as much relevance today as it did when I first read it in September of 2001. It also ought to put to bed the myth that the anti-Americanism we see so much of today was born when George Bush decided to remove Saddam.

Why do they hate America?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Disparate coverage

Taking another look at the Durbin story I wrote about yesterday, I thought it might be interesting to compare the BBC’s coverage of this scandal with a similar scandal over a Senator’s ill-advised choice of words that erupted back in 2002.

Some of you may recall that Trent Lott used to be a pretty important guy in the Senate. And then, at the 100th birthday party of Senator Strom Thurmond, Lott toasted Thurmond, saying that he should have won the presidency when he ran back in 1948 and suggesting that America would have been better off for it. Trouble was, in 1948 Thurmond was a racial segregationist and his purpose in running for president (as a Dixiecrat) was to advance a segregationist platform. Lott got in so much trouble that he was forced to resign his leadership position within the Senate.

In covering this episode, which went on for 11 days between December 10 and December 20, the BBC ran 10 separate stories, starting with the day after his original comments, continuing with detailed accounts of the controversy as it grew, and culminating, of course, with Lott’s resignation.

Fast forward to this past week. As I detailed yesterday, Dick Durbin’s comments on the Senate floor equating US actions in Guantanamo with Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot resulted in a similar uproar, although it appears that he may now escape without further damage to his position in the Senate. How much coverage did the BBC give it? A single story appearing a week after the incident and recounting virtually none of the raging controversy. (In fact, that story gives more coverage to other critics of Guantanamo than it does to criticism of Durbin, which is never specified.)

I can see two basic differences that might account for the disparity in the BBC’s treatment of the two scandals. 1) Lott is a Republican, while Durbin is a Democrat. 2) The BBC (I’m guessing) disagrees that Thurmond would have made a good president, while it finds comparisons between the US and any evil regime in history to be fairly uncontroversial.

You make the call.

Required reading

Victor Davis Hanson in National Review.

Left imitates Right

A BBC report today on the launch of The Christian Alliance for Progress highlights the interesting and on-going phenomena of the US political left trying to match the success of the right by mimicking what it perceives to be the source of that success. From the BBC:
A group of progressive Christians in the US have launched a new political movement to counter what they describe as the power of the religious right.
If this sounds familiar, it should. Last year a group of left-leaning financiers launched Air America, a talk-radio format aimed at countering the perceived influence of right-wing talk radio and the likes of Rush Limbaugh. One of its immediate goals, as the BBC reported at the time, was “regime change” in Washington, and we all know how that worked out. And, if the ratings are to be believed, AA hasn’t fared any better at capturing audience share. This failure is almost certainly a function of the left’s inability to understand the source of the right’s success. They seem to think they can get the ideas of the left to resonate with the public if they just wrap them up in a package that looks like a Rush Limbaugh show. They don’t get the fact that Limbaugh’s success derives from the fact that his ideas resonate with the public, not vice-versa.

My guess is that this new “religious-left” movement will prove to be as big a flop as Air America appears to be, and largely for the same reasons. Right-wing policies do not resonate with large swaths of Christians just because they have been sold using “Christian” language. They resonate because they actually do reflect values held by Christians. It seems to me that using religious sounding language to defend left-wing causes (unrestricted abortion, gay marriage, environmentalism) is unlikely to result in lots of religious converts to the left.

But it will certainly be interesting to see them try. First we had environtmentalists trying to ban SUV's by asking "What would Jesus Drive?". Will we next see NARAL asking us "What would Jesus choose?"?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Isn't news suppose to be new?

I've mentioned a couple of times now the notable repetition by the BBC of the the Amnesty International charge about "gulags". But what I hadn't noticed was this.

From the previously mentioned article about Dick Durbin, posted by the BBC on June 22:

Recent critics of the high-security detention centre at Guantanamo include former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who has called for its closure.

Amnesty International has branded the camp "the gulag of our times".

But US Vice-President Dick Cheney says there are no plans to close the prison, and describes the detainees as "bad people" and "hardcore".

Many of the 500 men held at the camp have been there for three years without trial.

And this, from a different, earlier article on a Bill Clinton interview, posted on June 20.

Recent critics of the high-security detention centre at Guantanamo include former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who has called for its closure.

Amnesty International has branded the camp "the gulag of our times".

But US Vice-President Dick Cheney says there are no plans to close the prison, and describes the detainees as "bad people" and "hardcore".

Many of the 500 men held at the camp have been there for three years without trial.

In each instance the quoted sentences comprise the conclusion to the article. Could it be that this has become simply a boiler-plate tag line that the BBC automatically adds on to any story that mentions Guantanamo? In a slightly earlier incarnation, buried within an article rather than concluding it, we find this:

Several senators and former President Jimmy Carter have called for the military prison at Guantanamo Bay to be closed down.

More than 500 men are being held at the facility. Many have been there for more than three years without trial.

Isn't this beginning to have a a little bit of a "Four legs good! Two legs bad!" sort of ring to it?

BBC watchers, keep your eyes out for more.

The real Durbin story

In keeping with a trend that I noted the other day, the BBC yet again finds another opportunity to remind readers, just in case you have forgotten, that:
Amnesty International has branded the [Guantanamo] camp "the gulag of our times".
The occasion which prompted the reminder was an article about Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s apology for his own hyperbolic rhetoric regarding Guantanamo. Needless to say, the BBC doesn’t even get the full story on that.

The first and most obvious omission is any detail of what Durbin actually said that necessitated the apology. We are told that he is apologizing “for comparing US interrogation practices at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba to those under Hitler and Stalin,” which I suppose is accurate enough, but surely readers deserve to see the actual text of the offending comments, which were:
If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime _ Pol Pot or others _ that had no concern for human beings.
But more egregiously the BBC portrays this episode as a simple case of poorly chosen words, on the back of which a sincere apology was offered. In fact the situation is much less simple and more politically interesting. Durbin made is comments last Tuesday on the Senate floor, and by Wednesday they had been passed around the internet and replayed over the radio to much objection and outrage. In the face of this groundswell, Durbin dug in his heels and the next day refused to apologize, saying only:
This administration should apologize to the American people for abandoning the Geneva Conventions and authorizing torture techniques that put our troops at risk and make Americans less secure.
By Thursday the pressure on Durbin was growing from enough quarters to force him to address the issue again. (Although not from within his own party, despite the claims of the BBC that “some” of his fellow Democrats had criticized him. Note that the BBC neither names nor quotes these Democratic critics. Other Democratic senators were conspicuously silent on the issue, and indeed Chicago mayor Richard Daley, who finally came out two days ago, is the only Democrat of note whose criticisms I have seen.) But still Durbin stood by his comments, although he did allow that they may have been “misinterpreted”.

Finally, on Friday, probably seeing that this was turning into a political nightmare, Durbin started his climb-down. Still not willing to make an actual apology, Durbin issued this damage control statement:
I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood. I sincerely regret if what I said caused anyone to misunderstand my true feelings: Our soldiers around the world and their families at home deserve our respect, admiration and total support.
Unfortunately for Durbin, this was largely seen as the non-apology apology that it was. And the issue had blown up so much now that newspapers, including his home state's own Chicago Tribune, were starting to address the issue in editorials. So, yet again, he felt compelled to issue a statement yesterday, which the BBC has finally picked up. Still, Durbin couldn’t resist shading the apology just a bit, saying (unreported by the BBC):
Some may believe that my remarks crossed a line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies.
Get it? He didn’t really cross the line, but he’s sincerely sorry if you think he did.

Anyway, perhaps if the BBC wasn’t spending so much time trying to work in the Amnesty International “gulag” theme into its stories, it might have more time to cover things with a bit more information and depth.

The delicious irony of it

How beautifully fitting that the ignorant, unsophisticated, bible-bashing, religiously bigoted Americans (as Justin Webb might – indeed has - put it) are being disciplined within the Anglican church....for not being bigoted enough.

The American and Canadian Churches have been excluded from one of the Anglican Communion's top bodies after refusing to change their views on homosexuality.

The policy-making Anglican Consultative Council voted them out for three years
over their willingness to ordain gay clergy and bless gay relationships.

The Anglican Church, for those of you who may not know, is the official Church of England the head of which is appointed by the Prime Minister. Yes, they still do that here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Freedland's Follies

The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland today tries to give some legs to the Downing Street Memo controversy with his “Yes, they did lie to us” commentary. Essentially Freedland is trying to shame his countrymen into caring about the DSM by suggesting that Americans – yes Americans, of all people – are starting to take a serious look at the implications of the DSM.

But in the course of his attempt to get the Brits on side, Freedland shows a remarkable ignorance of the US. First Freedland has to set the stage by reminding his audience just how incurious and uninformed Americans generally were about the prospects of war in Iraq.

Before the war on Iraq, Britain witnessed a ferocious debate over whether the case for conflict was legal and honest. It culminated in the largest demonstration in the country's history, as a million or more took to the streets to stop the war. At the same time, the US sleepwalked into battle. Its press subjected George Bush to a fraction of the scrutiny endured by Tony Blair: the president's claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida were barely challenged.
Well, I suppose if the US was “sleepwalking” in the run-up to the war, all those protests that we heard tell about across the US must have just been a dream. Yet another reason, I suppose, not to trust the BBC. And the irritating must have just been making things up.

But of course this is bunk. The notion that the US press unquestioningly accepted Bush administration assertions prior to the war is a ridiculous claim. No honest person who pays any attention to the far-from-Bush-loving US press could possibly believe that they docilely accepted what was coming out of the White House, especially regarding Iraq-al Qaeda links. As far back as August 2002, CNN was already raising questions about those links. In November of 02, Daniel Schorr, of National Public Radio (the US’s downsized version of the BBC, both in funding and in political orientation), was arguing that the case for an Iraq – al Qaeda link was unconvincing.

And of course we have America’s so-called paper of record. The NYT unfortunately does not allow free internet access to its archives. But you can run a search and see the headlines along with a short abstract for any article dating back to 1996. In running a search for “iraq al Qaeda link” between September 02 and March 03, I managed to discover Elusive Qaeda Connections, Iraq’s Ties to Terror; The Threat Isn’t Easy to Read, The Illusory Prague Connection, and Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda Are Not Allies, among others. I even managed to find the whole text of CIA,FBI Staffers See No Link Between Iraq, al Qaeda. And this is not a comprehensive list.

Clearly Freedland is selling a fictional past. But what about his view of the present?
Yet now the picture has reversed. In Washington Iraq remains close to the centre of politics while in Britain it has all but vanished. So the big news on Capitol Hill is he Democrats' refusal to confirm John Bolton, the man Bush wants to serve as US ambassador to the UN, in part because of suspicions arising from the lead-up to War.
As my British friends might say, that's bollocks. The lead up to the war has nothing to do with Democratic obstruction of Bolton’s nomination, and anyone with an ounce of political sense knows it. Oh sure, Harry Reid might now say it has something to do with that, but that’s only because that’s one of the few excuses the Dems have not already used in their never-ending quest to deny Bolton’s appointment. First it was his apparent hostility towards the UN itself. Then it was his overly brusque manner with subordinates. Then it was his supposed manipulation of intelligence data. Then it was suspicion that he “improperly” sought the identities of US citizens named in intelligence communications. Now, as Freedland puts it:
[The DSM] had established that "hyping intelligence" happened and [Reid] wanted to know if Bolton had ever been involved in similar exercises.
I’m kind of surprised that Reid hasn’t asked for the Warren Commission to be re-formed to look into allegations that Bolton was in Dallas in November of ’63. In taking this claim seriously, Freedland is either naïve or disingenuous.

And what of this newfound interest in the DSM in the States?
In Britain they have scarcely made a dent, but in America they have developed an unexpected momentum. Initially circulated on left-leaning websites, they have now broken out of the blogosphere and into the mainstream. The big newspapers have editorialized on the topic; last week Democratic congressmen held unofficial hearings into the memos...
Freedland should let the left-wing media watchdog Media Matters know about those “big newspapers”, given that, far from the DSM capturing the American imagination, it thinks there’s a mainstream media coverup going on.

And he should take a look at Bush-hating Washington Post reporter Dana Millbank’s take on these, um, “unofficial hearings".
In the Capitol basement yesterday, long-suffering House Democrats took a trip to the land of make-believe. They pretended a small conference room was the Judiciary Committee hearing room, draping white linens over folding tables to make them look like witness tables and bringing in cardboard name tags and extra flags to make the whole thing look official.
These were "unofficial" hearings in the same sense that my golf round last weekend was the "unofficial" British Open.

It’s fair enough, I suppose, for Freedland to implore his fellow Brits to take the DSM more seriously. But if he’s going to use the American political scene to help make his case, he at least ought to know a little bit about it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Profoundly wrong

In the Daily Telegraph of all places, we find this fawning article about Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Apparently Krugman is over here in London, and channel 4 economics correspondent Liam Halligan had the pleasure of meeting up with him. According to Halligan Krugman is a “arguably the most brilliant economist of his generation”. Which I guess is another way of saying that, arguably, he is not.

But Krugman’s questionable status among the greats of economics aside, what really caught my attention was this:
Krugman combines the virtues of a great economist - analytical clarity and profound respect for facts - with none of the usual caution.
Not just a respect for facts, mind you, but a profound respect for facts. And with that Halligan has just destroyed whatever credibility he might otherwise have had.

I mean, it doesn’t take much to discover that Krugman’s commitment to factual truths is, well, questionable to say the least. The internet is chock-full of examples of Krugman’s shading of facts, selective use of data, deceptive use of quotations, and outright misrepresentations in his column. Donald Luskin has created a semi-weekly event over the last 4 years out of uncovering Krugman’s journalistic misdeeds in his twice-a-week NYT column, right up to just the other day, when Krugman tried to pass off a Democratic scandal as a Republican scandal. Anyone who is interested can go to National Review's archives and see 109 articles by Luskin, most of which go into great detail showing just how much “respect” Krugman has for facts.

But you don’t even have to look to Krugman’s political foes to know how Krugman operates. Just look to his employer. In the wake of the Jayson Blair fiasco, the New York Times created a new position of “Public Editor”, to whom readers were encouraged to write with their complaints about the paper’s reporting. Daniel Okrent was appointed to the position in December 2003, and Krugman quickly became a regular target of complaints. After a year and half on the job, in announcing his departure from the position, Okrent wrote this column, titled The Public Editor; 13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did”. In it, he says this:

Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults. Maureen Dowd was still writing that Alberto R. Gonzales ''called the Geneva Conventions 'quaint''' nearly two months after a correction in the news pages noted that Gonzales had specifically applied the term to Geneva provisions about commissary privileges, athletic uniforms and scientific instruments. Before his retirement in January, William Safire vexed me with his chronic assertion of clear links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, based on evidence only he seemed to possess.

No one deserves the personal vituperation that regularly comes Dowd's way, and some of Krugman's enemies are every bit as ideological (and consequently unfair) as he is. But that doesn't mean that their boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., shouldn't hold his columnists to higher standards.

This resulted in an exchange between Krugman and Okrent on the NYT message boards, in which Okrent had this to say in response to Krugman’s defense:
This was the first he heard from me on these specific issues partly because I learned early on in this job that Prof. Krugman would likely be more willing to contribute to the Frist for President campaign than to acknowledge the possibility of error. When he says he agreed “reluctantly” to one correction, he gives new meaning to the word “reluctantly”; I can’t come up with an adverb sufficient to encompass his general attitude toward substantive criticism. But I laid off for so long because I also believe that columnists are entitled by their mandate to engage in the unfair use of statistics, the misleading representation of opposing positions, and the conscious withholding of contrary data. But because they’re entitled doesn’t mean I or you have to like it, or think it’s good for the newspaper.
This, remember, is coming from one of Krugman’s colleagues at the NYT, not an opinionated political opponent.

All of this is fairly common knowledge to anyone who follows Krugman's columns at all. In describing Krugman as having a “profound respect for facts”, Halligan has shown himself to either be “profoundly” ignorant of the very subject of his article, or profoundly shameless in adopting the dishonest ethics of his economic hero.

Toynbee's European dream

I missed it when it first came out, but Polly Toynbee of The Guardian had a missive last Friday about the current troubles in Euroland, and Britain’s place within Europe. Since the disintegration of European unity is an issue in which America plays no obvious part, naturally the US featured prominently in her analysis.

Essentially Toynbee urges Blair to make nice with his European detractors primarily because Europe is not America. She chastises Blair and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown for irritating the European mainland by pretending to be too much like America.

The subtle differences that Brown, Blair and Chirac have frivolously over-emphasised are minuscule compared with the great difference with America. Blair and Brown have done Britain a deep disservice by spreading the false notion there is some magic neo-liberal formula Britain has embraced…

The New Deal was a vital ingredient in transforming the employment climate here, but it was never some American welfare-to-work slavery. Yet, with Blair and Brown hammering on about how the French and Germans must "liberalise" employment practices, that's the impression we give.

Americans, I’m sure, will be surprised to learn that “welfare-to-work slavery”, otherwise known to them simply as, er, self-reliance, is a uniquely American characteristic. They might also wonder, if this is what Europeans call “slavery”, what one might call it when the government not only doesn’t encourage you to work, it actually prevents you from working (via what is known in typically obscure Eurospeak as the “48-hour Working Time Directive”.) Toynbee provides the answer: “reasonable”.

Toynbee really takes off as she thinks about the future.
It will take visionary leadership to persuade people that Europe's great mission has been spreading democracy to fascist and communist dictatorships, not by invasion but by the soft power of embrace.
Indeed it will. Especially given how difficult it is to actually come up with a fascist or communist dictatorship that has, in fact, been won over to democracy by Europe’s warm embrace. To be sure, Europe has done well with the embracing part (think Castro, Arafat, even Saddam). But as for that democratic transformation…well, I’m at a loss.

Finally, she culminates with a grand delusion:
A recent Newsweek global survey found how profoundly anti-American the world has become in the Bush era, and that unites Europeans: 77% of Germans, 64% in Britain, saw his re-election as a threat to world peace. It showed the American dream dead outside America: most of the world looks instead to the European way and that is what the EU is for.
Is it true that the American dream is dead outside of America? Surely there is a better way of establishing the fact than asking a bunch of Germans how much they really, really hate Bush’s foreign policy. Like, for instance, looking at migration statistics perhaps? It has long been a joke that the only thing bigger than the anti-American protests outside a givenUS embassy is the line of people inside the embassy trying to get a visa. It turns out that, in the three years of available data since Bush has been president, the US has admitted 2.8 million legal immigrants into the US, including 450,349 from Europe itself…presumably people who are intimately familiar with the “European way”, whatever that means. And on top of that 2.8 million there is an additional 2.4 million temporary workers who come to the US to work without immigrant status. Let’s not even get started on the approximately 350,000 illegal immigrants who come to the US annually. And these figures are undoubtedly dampened by the tightened security and immigration policies adopted post-9/11.

For sure some of these people (like middle-eastern terrorists, perhaps) are entering the US in the hopes of getting it to adopt a more “European way”. But I suspect that most of them are, indeed, scrambling to get a piece of that American dream which is, no doubt much to Toynbee’s annoyance, alive and well throughout the world.

A rail congestion charge?

In a less stellar job than its Byrd piece, the front page of The Times today blares outRail commuters face congestion charges”. A more appropriate headline would have been “Rail commuters face free market forces”.

It turns out that the rail companies are contemplating raising prices on peak-hour trains in order to alleviate over-crowding. It’s been a while since my econ 101 class, but if memory serves, that’s not a "congestion charge". That’s the law of supply and demand.

Most ironic to this particular commuter was this:
The [Association of Train Operating Companies] said that the pricing system would be needed to cope with the introduction of road tolls, which could overwhelm trains by encouraging thousands of car drivers to switch to rail.
Surprise, surprise. The government introduces measures to force cars off the road, and it results in more crowded trains, causing prices to go up. Who could have imagined?

And then there was this gem:
The Rail Passengers Council condemned the plan, saying that many passengers had no choice but to catch certain trains. “We are opposed to pri-cing people off trains,” a spokeswoman said. “The way to attract passengers to less-crowded trains is to offer better off-peak discounts rather then target a captive audience.
Let me get this straight. The RPC condemns price increases for people who “have no choice”, but suddenly that same “captive audience” will exercise their heretofore non-existent ability to choose if other trains lower their price? Hmmm.

The Times on Byrd

The Times today has a good article about Senator Robert Byrd (D – WV), who has been a notable figure in the recent filibuster bust-up in the US Senate.

THE most venerated figure in the US Senate has told for the first time how the inspiration for his illustrious half-century of public service was a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.

Robert Byrd was a butcher in tiny Crab Orchard, West Virginia, when the Klan official was so impressed by his efforts to organise a KKK chapter that he urged him to enter politics.

This candid portrayal of Byrd and his Ku Klux Klan roots stands in stark contrast to the BBC’s favorable mention of Byrd in Justin Webb’s puff piece on the filibuster debate (noted by TAE here), in which Webb suggested that Byrd was “closer than anyone to the kind of senator the founding fathers had in mind”, gave voice to Byrd’s fond remembrances of his halcyon days as a filibusterer, and lamented that “Byrd’s right to ramble may soon be curtailed”. Needless to say, Webb failed to mention that the filibuster Byrd was so fondly recalling was his attempt to prevent the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, nor did he mention Byrd’s previous tenure as a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.

Kudos to The Times for filling in the UK on Byrd's past.

Justin Webb, "informing" us again

John Bolton’s nomination to become the US’s representative at the UN continues to be filibustered, raising the possibility that Bush will use his constitutional powers to appoint him during an upcoming congressional recess. So how does our favorite Washington correspondent for the BBC report this situation?

[Bush] has the power to appoint his man over the heads of the senators during their recess for the 4 July holiday - an appointment which would last until 2007.

Would that look like a bold move overcoming petty partisan politics, or the desperate strategy of a lame-duck second-term president?

Mr Bush's advisors must decide.

Funny, it had never occurred to me that such an appointment might be the “desperate strategy of a lame-duck” president, and I highly doubt that Karl Rove is wringing his hands over this one. But then again, it hadn’t occurred to the BBC either back in 1999 when lame-duck President Clinton used precisely the same strategy over a weekend holiday to appoint James Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg after a couple of Republicans tied up his nomination in committee and refused to allow a vote. Oddly enough, back then the BBC refrained from offering up suggestions as to what the move should “look like” to its readers

Apparently, to the BBC, only when recess appointments are used by Republicans…or is it just Bush?...does the strategy begin to take on the whiff of desperation.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Gulag Schmulag

Today, the BBC published an article about Bill Clinton’s interview with the Financial Times in which Clinton says that the US detention facility at Guantanamo should be “closed down or cleaned up” (the BBC headline reflects only its preference: Clinton urges Guantanamo closure). After detailing Clinton’s comments, the BBC helpfully reminds its readers in an aside that “Amnesty International has branded it ‘the gulag of our times’.” This reminder has become rather typical of BBC stories on Guantanamo. In the nearly 4 weeks since Amnesty International issued its annual report on human rights and made its infamous reference, the BBC has mentioned the Amnesty description in no less than 6 articles (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), 3 of those times as simply an aside in what was an article about other issues.

But why does the BBC continue to note the “gulag” comment, time and time again? Serious and reasonable people can disagree over a lot of things, including the merits of maintaining the prison at Gitmo. But no reasonable person can accept the parallel drawn by Amnesty as worthy of serious consideration, and if the BBC thinks differently, it owes the people who are forced by law to fund it a serious examination of how the deaths of millions through forced labor, starvation and disease have manifested themselves at Guantanamo.

Does the BBC’s British audience know that, even as the BBC continues to hype Amnesty’s over-the-top rhetoric, a former Soviet dissident and prisoner, Pavel Litvinov, has revealed that Amnesty sought him out for support over its “gulag” comment and admitted to him that, while there is indeed an “enormous difference” between Gitmo and the gulag, drawing the parallel “attracts attention to the problem of Guantanamo detainees”? Not unless they also read the Washington Post, they don't.

The BBC should be covering the “gulag” comment as an Amnesty International scandal. How did a once serious and important organization so lose its bearings that it finds itself comparing the greatest (albeit imperfect) proponent of freedom in the history of the world to one of the most homicidal regimes in history? Is it appropriate for an ostensible moral authority like AI to throw away its credibility with outrageous and hyperbolic charges simply in order to gain publicity?

Instead of investigating these questions, the BBC instead chooses to tacitly advance those very same outrageous charges by repeating them, as relevant and serious, on every possible occasion. Can there be any doubt left that the BBC is making the same political judgment that Amnesty made, namely that in order to advance its own political aims, sometimes the truth must be sacrificed? Oh, but I forgot. The BBC does not have political aims, does it?

Paul Wolfowitz, Neocon

The Guardian today reports that newly appointed head of the World Bank Paul Wolfowitz (or, as the BBC irritatingly insists on pronouncing it, Paul Volfovitz – you know, to remind us of his vaguely suspicious German heritage) is looking for additional aid for Africa after taking a tour of the continent. According to The Guardian, this bodes well for Tony Blair:
The remarks from someone so close to Mr Bush indicate that America may swing behind Tony Blair's call for extra aid as well as just debt relief.
An odd judgment, this, in light of The Guardian's declaration just yesterday that “Washington also appears to be unsympathetic towards the plight of Africa.” Appearances do change quickly over at The Guardian, I guess.

But most notable about today’s piece is not what it says, but what is missing from it. In the obligatory background characterizations which ostensibly give context to his statements, Wolfowitz is characterized as “a close ally of Bush” and was “seen as a Washington hawk during the Iraq war” (“seen as”…sigh). No where to be seen, oddly, was the usually ever-present “neoconservative” label.

When Wolfowitz was nominated by Bush to head the World Bank, and then later when he was confirmed, he made regular appearances in Guardian articles, which generally ranged from vaguely critical to openly hostile. All of them used the dreaded “neocon” label in order to cast the appropriate, if veiled, amount of doubt over Wolfowitz’s motives/goodwill/sanity.

Consider this, in which Wolfowitz was:

…the neo-conservative intellectual who helped translate theories on pre-emptive action into the reality of war.

Or this, in which he was:
…the neoconservative advocate of war in Iraq.
Or this, in which he was:
… the neo-conservative ex-Pentagon hawk
Or this, in which The Guardian worried that:
… Wolfowitz will arrive at the bank with a negative neocon mission, distrusting the very concept of overseas aid.
Or this, in which he:
…is widely seen as a neo-Conservative and one of the strongest voices calling for the invasion of Iraq. [who are these people whose sight The Guardian so often relies upon? – TAE]
Or this, in which he’s said to have a:
…reputation as a raging neoconservative.
Or…well, you get the picture. It seems pretty clear that The Guardian thinks it’s important that we know that Wolfowitz is a neoconservative. Or, at least, it did, back when it was trashing him. Perhaps when a person starts doing things deemed to be good, he can no longer be "seen as" one of those dreaded, raging neocons.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

What are the major sources of misunderstanding?

In a little climate-change sidebar to its main articles, The Guardian/Observer writer Jenny Bird poses an interesting question.
What are the major sources of carbon dioxide?
Unfortunately, she goes on to answer an entirely different question.
Most man-made carbon emissions come from burning fossil fuels for energy. In the UK, the biggest emitters are from transport and the domestic sectors, of which aviation is the fastest growing. Because of their varying chemical constituents, different fossil fuels produce different amounts of carbon dioxide. Coal produces most, then oil, and then gas.
Note the bait and switch. Rather than pointing out the actual sources of the overwhelming majority of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is what the question suggests will be addressed, she switches to point out the major sources of man-made emissions. This pretty clearly leaves the impression that the existence of CO2 in the atmosphere is almost exclusively the result of burning fossil fuels, which is the exact opposite of the truth. In fact, of the 157 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere annually, 95.5% of it comes from natural sources such as plants, animals (including human respiration), and the ocean.

Whether or not Bird meant to deceive her readers, I don't know. But given the propagandistic nature of climate-change coverage in general, it is not beyond the pale to imagine that she knew exactly what she was doing.

Shock! Bush articulates his own policy rather than The Guardian's

The Guardian/Observer today climbs back on its hobby horse to enage in two of its favorite pastimes...Bush-bashing and global climate scare-mongering. In a whole slew of articles - for instance here, here, and here - it hypes global warming and demonizes the Bush administration both for what it does and what it doesn't do. The big news (as opposed to the seemingly endless harping on the same global warming litany that we've already heard a million times) is that documents "obtained by The Observer" detail the "extraordinary" efforts being made by the Bush administration to "scupper" Britain's attempts to tackle global warming. What are these extraordinary efforts revealed in these documents? Well, it turns out that, in preparing papers to submit to the upcoming G8 summit, the Bush administration edited them so that - prepare yourself to be shocked- they reflected the Bush administration's thinking and policies.

The "leaked" papers, which were "part of the Bush administration's submission to the G8 action plan for Gleneagles next month", show that, as The Guardian puts it, Washington:

· Removed all reference to the fact that climate change is a 'serious threat to human health and to ecosystems';

· Deleted any suggestion that global warming has already started;

· Expunged any suggestion that human activity was to blame for climate change.

Removed, deleted, and expunged. The nerve, the unmitigated gall, the sheer effrontery of those scoundrels in Washington, editing their own papers to say what they want them to say.

Forgive me if I fail to be impressed by The Guardian's scoop. I hadn't realized that Washington's submissions to the G8 were required to reflect The Guardian's sky-is-falling rhetoric on global warming rather than its own poistion.

We also find out that:
Washington also appears to be unsympathetic towards the plight of Africa, the other priority singled out by Blair for the G8 Summit in Gleneagles.
Now that did surprise me, given the recent agreements on debt relief as well as Bush's past actions on AIDS in Africa. So how is it that Washington's lack of sympathy has manifested itself?
The documents reveal how the Bush administration has pulled out of financial pledges to fund a network of regional climate centres throughout Africa which were designed to monitor the unfolding impact of global warming.
I see. Forget about funding for food and health care. What's really important to Africa is ensuring employment for the West's growing supply of scientists feeding at the public trough.

Glad to see The Guardian has its priorities.

Adsense or nonsense?

So I signed up the other day for Google Adsense, which allows Google to place advertisements on the website. (See the blue band below my description on the right). According to Google:
Google AdSense technology goes beyond simple keyword or category matching. We work hard to understand your content and deliver ads that are relevant to specific pages, automatically, no matter how many thousands of pages your site may have, or how specialized or broad your content. As your content changes, Google's ads change to match. And since our ads are also targeted by country, global businesses can display local advertising with no additional effort.
So what do I find when I look at the site this morning? An ad for meeting "Muslim singles" and another one for "Scientology News".

Google, if your vaunted technology is paying any attention, please note that I am not a friend to Scientology, and I very, very much doubt that Muslims looking for a date are trolling through The American Expatriate. However hard you think you are working to understand my content, it's clearly not hard enough.