Friday, January 06, 2006

In praise of Justin Webb (Yes, that Justin Webb)

Normblog has a transcription of a remarkable exchange between the BBC's Justin Webb and Stephen Sakur from Radio 4's Correspondents Look Ahead program. What makes it so remarkable is the fact that Justin Webb rises to the defense of America in the face of a typically ludicrous (Webb's word) charge against it.

Sackur: One fascinating insight into human rights attitudes round the world I had in recent weeks was chatting to Mary Robinson who till very recently was the UN chief running the Human Rights Commission. She said the problem is that, because of what has happened, post-Iraq in particular, with Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition, a whole host of other things she listed, it is impossible now for countries like America which basically are democracies, which many people around the world have always looked up to - the problem is now they cannot take the moral high ground and lecture other countries on how they should impose human rights values. It doesn't work any more...

Webb: That's absolutely ludicrous, though, isn't it? I mean the view in America of that kind of comment is just to throw your hands up and say 'For goodness sake...' Look at the facts on the ground, look at the way that Iraq was run before the invasion, look at Iran now, and then look, for instance, at America. I mean, can you seriously say that there is some kind of moral equivalence between the way they treat their own people and the way Americans treat theirs, the way they behave on the world stage...?

Sackur: Justin, hang on, it's all about perception...

Webb: Ah, that's a different matter... Someone in the position that Mary Robinson is in, where it shouldn't be just about perception, it should be about a knowledge of the facts on the ground - that kind of thing is what so annoys people in this country, and not just Republicans, Americans of all political stripes, who just say to the rest of the world, 'For goodness sake: look at us without your soft anti-Americanism, or your dislike of McDonalds or whatever else, or your dislike of big people, powerful people, successful people... just look at the facts on the ground.' America is a very very free country...

I haven't yet listened to the exchange myself (Norm says it is 28 minutes into the show, but I couldn't find it there), but if this is correct, color me astonished. This is not the Webb we have come to know. What next? Are we to find out in a couple of months that the condescendingly secular Webb is in fact a closet Born Again Christian?

Well, regardless, given the harsh words TAE has reserved for Webb in the past, it is only fair to give credit where it is due. Kudos to Justin for making a salient point and making it well in defense of the US.

More Robertson lunacy

It seems increasingly apparent that Pat Robertson is engaged in a vast experiment to see just how nutty a person’s public utterances must become before the media takes pity and starts ignoring him. According to ABC, yesterday Robertson attributed Ariel Sharon’s stroke to the wrath of God.
Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson suggested Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine punishment for "dividing God's land."
You may recall that back in August, Robertson caused a stir when he called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez. The BBC played that episode to the hilt, pumping out no less than 6 full on-line articles about it, but it has yet to mention anything on Robertson’s latest spasm of lunacy.

It would be comforting to think that its silence is due to a belated realization that Robertson is a buffoon whose public proclamations need not concern serious people. But TAE can’t quite shrug off the nagging suspicion that it has more to do with the BBC’s posture towards the objects of Robertson’s bile than with Robertson himself.

Update: TAE's nagging suspicion is wholly unjustified. Justin Webb reports on the issue, telling us that "Mr Robertson is too big a figure in American politics to be ignored." One wonders why, then, apart from his occassional tourette-like outbursts of inanity, Robertson is, well, pretty much ignored, even by the BBC.

It's official

Just in case there were any doubters left, it has now been confirmed. George Galloway is officially a bad joke.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

UK more free than US

The UK makes its way into the top 5 on The Heritage Foundation’s index of economic freedom. It is a sign of just how overregulated the US has become that it is now being outpaced on the economic freedom front by a country that forces people to pay for socialized medicine, charges tax/duty rates in excess of 250% on essential goods, and runs a government-owned and coercively financed media operation.


For those interested, please be directed to Paul Reynolds' response in the comments section of this post.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

More of the same

The BBC has apparently decided that we're not getting quite enough of Matt Frei through his regular reports, and so has granted him his own on-line space for a fortnightly "diary".

Today's entry treats us to what could be the worst use of simile ever used by a major media outlet ("...discarded Christmas trees litter the pavements like ejected relatives, plucked bare of baubles, shedding needles and waiting for the District of Columbia Refuse Collection Department"); typical overdramatization ("the National Security Agency, a body so secret it has been nicknamed 'No Such Agency'" - indeed, so secret is the NSA it has its own public web page and extensive history on wikipedia); and, in yet more evidence that an agreeable UK media is being used to hype a presidential bid from an unknown, an admiring profile of Mark Warner ("not impossibly handsome; a self-made telecoms millionaire, who is rich but a lot poorer than John Kerry; running a southern state that voted overwhelmingly for George Bush, is fiercely patriotic and sends almost as many convicts to death row as Texas.")

Frei does deserve credit for his observation that:
I am always struck by how weak the American president is compared to, say, a British prime minister, who can do more or less as he and his party please if they have the right majority in parliament.
This is indeed something that will be lost on many in the UK, as most media coverage here tends to treat the president as though he is the fount from which springs forth all law and policy.

In any event, it seems that this new diary will give Frei the opportunity to offer up his own personal and editorial take on the goings-on in Washington. So how exactly it will differ from his normal reporting remains a bit of a mystery to TAE.

BBC "improves" on a WaPo article

Today the BBC's Paul Reynolds uses the Jack Abramoff indictment and guilty plea as an opening to delve into the world of Washington lobbyists with a fairly interesting article. At the end of the piece, he talks of the recent growth in Washington lobbying, citing a Washington Post "survey" which touched on the rather impressive salaries being commanded by lobbyists these days. Reynolds then says:
The growth was attributed in the survey to a combination of an expansion of government, the control of the White House and Congress by Republicans keen to develop this part of the governmental process, and the increasing realisation by companies they needed help in securing benefits and preventing damage to their interests.
When asked about where one might find this survey, Reynolds directed TAE to a Washington Post article from June. Oddly, the Post story makes no mention of any survey whatsoever, although it does indeed substantiate the figures that Reynolds cites. More significantly, though, was this particular paragraph from the Post article.
The lobbying boom has been caused by three factors, experts say: rapid growth in government, Republican control of both the White House and Congress, and wide acceptance among corporations that they need to hire professional lobbyists to secure their share of federal benefits.
Note the difference between this and Reynolds' re-write (apart from the fact that the opinion of "experts" has been transformed into the findings of a "survey"). In Reynolds' retelling of it, a partial cause of the growth is no longer simply the fact of Republican control of both the White House and Congress, but is instead the attitude of Republicans who control the government, namely that they are "keen to develop" the lobbying process.

Where this notion came from is unclear, and Reynolds has yet to respond to TAE's request for an explanation, but TAE will certainly post any response Reynolds may provide.

UPDATE: Just as I posted, my inbox flashed with a response from Mr. Reynolds.
I chose the most neutral form of words I could in order to explain in one paragraph what the article takes several to go into.
Given that at no point does the WaPo article claim anything like that Republicans are "keen to develop" the lobbying process, and that the WaPo article actually managed to convey the reasons for the growth in lobbying with 9 fewer words than did Reynolds, this strikes me as an extremely odd explanation.

Reynolds also said that since figures and graphs were included in the WaPo article, it was "obvious" that a survey was involved. Perhaps, but what seems less obvious to TAE is why the opinions explicity attributed to "experts" by the WaPo would then be attributed by the BBC to a "survey".