September 24, 2005

"The real question - putting it baldly - is whether there is going to be a revolution."

A BBC opinionwriter muses about the American response to Hurricane Katrina:
Will the American social and economic system - which creates the wealth that pays for billionaires' private jets, and the poverty which does not allow for a bus fare out of New Orleans - be addressed?

It has been tinkered with before of course, sometimes as a result of natural disasters. There were for instance plenty of buses on hand for this week's Rita evacuation.

But the system's fundamentals - no limit on how far you can fly and little limit on how low you can fall - remain as intact as they were in the San Francisco gold rush.
The headline for this unbelievably smug piece is "Katrina prompts charity not change."

UPDATE: This post got a strange link from Andrew Sullivan:
ALTHOUSE ON THE BEEB: Picked up by Instapundit and the Corner as more evidence of wretched BBC anti-American bias, I read the piece assailed by Ann Althouse. It's an opinion piece, not news reporting, so obviously a little more lee-way for bias should be allowed. And yes, there's a bizarre assumption that there is no welfare net in America - or that we haven't just expanded it to cover millions of wealthy seniors, or that welfare rolls haven't been reduced by almost a half in a few years, and so on.
Was my post about the BBC being biased? Did I somehow not perceive that the writer I called a "BBC opinionwriter" was "writing an an opinion piece, not news reporting"? You'd think my use of the term "opinionwriter" would have nailed that down rather hard! But thanks for the ridiculously inappropriate patronizing, Andrew! Check out the title of my post! It's awfully damned obvious that I'm writing about the stupidity of this one writer's notion that the United States may be headed for a revolution, which Sullivan completely agrees with in his post, even though for some reason he writes as if he's taking issue with me. It's quite apparent that Sullivan is mainly concerned with things that Glenn Reynolds and Jonah Goldberg said at their sites when they linked to me, but he didn't bother to write accurately about me. I think if Sullivan is going to use my name in his post title, he ought to take care about acting as if he's got a problem with me, when, in fact, he doesn't. But Sullivan doesn't read my blog, I'm almost sure. He just reads Instapundit and the Corner. To him, I'm just an empty link found there.


knox said...

Some people just don't want to give up on the theory of capitalism as the root of all evil. It's a sophisticated point of view (if you're still in college).

Michael said...

I think it's safe to say that in a country where the main problem of the poor is obesity, there will never be the sort of revolution that the pampered pinks of the BBC hope for.

Now, a revolution against the TV licence fee system in Britain-- that could get ugly!

EddieP said...

Not only unbelievably smug, but "Stuck on Stupid". What does bus fare out of New Orleans have to do with anything? Hell, free train rides out of the city were rejected.

Pullo said...

Another "journalist" stuck on stupid. Guess he doesn't recall that we had our revolution in 1776, when we turned our back on snooty Brits like him.

Cosmo said...

I spend a lot of time in the developing world -- the part of the planet earnest types at the BBC claim to care so much about.

When America's 'poor' are among the richest people on the planet, living in the most opportunity-rich society in human history, the BBC's cheap moralizing is pretty hard to take seriously.

As to the statement, "no limit on how far you can fly and little limit on how low you can fall" --

Can't really have one without the other. People who think risk and hardship can be wrung out of life with the right government policies will never understand this.

The freedom to design new heart valves or build the next Microsoft can also be wasted; creative energy squandered on decadence.

Freedom and complete responsibility for one's destiny are both exhiliarating and terrifying -- and a lot of hard work.

Much easier to either claim choices don't exist, or to demand that someone else make those choices for you.

Go Metro said...

If you liked that one, you'll love this one:

"American dream eludes the poorest"

"In the superpower where President George Bush promised "no child left behind" - tens of thousands of children, and their parents, were indeed left behind. Literally."

You can figure out the rest....

Go Metro said...

If you liked that one, you'll love this one; it's called "American dream eludes the poorest" and it goes a little something like this:

"In the superpower where President George Bush promised "no child left behind" - tens of thousands of children, and their parents, were indeed left behind. Literally."

You can guess the rest

Go Metro said...

Sorry for the double post. Here is a working link to the original article.

ALH ipinions said...


"...unbelievably smug? Perhaps. But besides his style, do you have any disagreement with the substance of Webb’s insightful and provocative article?

CDR Salamander said...

Having lived in both Europe and the U.S. (obviously) having a Brit talk about poverty etc is just laughable.

All the BBC does here is show the bias and ignorance if its author.

BTW, for those that don't get a chance to hear it, the BBC in general, and BBC World Service to be exact, make CBS look like Fox News.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anna said...

First, the BBC can go pound salt. They have gotten so whimpy that they will fold under one man's anger over a dessert lid!

Secondly, here is a POV that will undoubtedly be considered from an ivory tower, but the best thing we could do for the poor is to kick them in the butt and force them to start working for their own future instead of living off the dole. Now, I realize there are some that really need welfare help, but that's just it, it's only supposed to be help not a lifestyle.

I'm aggravated by the young man who demanded that he be given $20k to get back on his feet (otherwise he's stuck in this 'modern form of slavery')! I am also getting news from a friend who works in public housing that the people they are trying to get into homes from the Katrina evacuation are nasty, demanding, and for the most part spitting in the faces of the people working so hard to help them. Everyone has to work for what they have and for the vast majority of us it is hard work that got us where we are, not having it handed to us.

Thank you for "listening," just had to get that out there.

leeontheroad said...

Webb answers his own question: "no."

His question about whether government is supposed to provide charity is really telling. Whether or not one thinks that charity is a good thing (I do) or that government should have a wide social safety net (I say "define "wide"), the basis of the nation's founding has nothing to do with government providing charity.

So when Webb goes on to say that the US government system is "mess," his point is non-sequitir, not ipso facto.

(How's that for counter-smug?)

genie junkie said...

Oh, yeah, the BBC has been really driving me mad! Matt Wells has done some really horrible hit pieces. I had to savage him on my buddy's blog

Anonymous said...

When Mr. Webb actually got out of Washington and visited the real America he began to get some insight into the American people. Unfortunately, he still has doesn't really have a clue.

Hal said...

Webb's view of the USA

"America is often portrayed as an ignorant, unsophisticated sort of place, full of bible bashers and ruled to a dangerous extent by trashy television, superstition and religious bigotry, a place lacking in respect for evidence based knowledge.

I know that is how it is portrayed because I have done my bit to paint that picture"

Anonymous said...

Aren't these European bien-pensants supposed to be multiculturalists or something? Why do the relatively minor differences in social practice between here and there always throw them into such a tizzy?

California Conservative said...

Speaking of San Francisco...

We've got homeless. A study of the problem reveals they are either (a) insane (b) addicted to drugs (c) runaways (d) all of the above. Beyond that, some of the homeless are young and able-bodied.

The BBC writer's attempt to frame socioeconomic disparity by pointing to "private jets" vs. "no bus fare" is nothing more than stoking class warfare.

In America, if an individual makes a genuine attempt to be productive, he/she is not guaranteed affluence, but they can "make a living." Not only busfare, but food and clothing. Basic necessities. "Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

What Katrina revealed is that not everyone is productive. It's not so much that people didn't have money for busfare, but rather that they couldn't even conceive of taking care of themselves.

Government welfare programs have perpetuated this social malady, not the capitalist who flies in his private jet. Afterall, someone needs to fly it, build it, fuel it, repair it, and serve cocktails to the privileged passengers.

For many, poverty in America is a choice not a consequence.

Bruce Hayden said...

I am not quite sure of his point. We will see tweaks. But a revolution? Maybe in LA and NO politics. But I don't see it anywhere else. After all, it wasn't the government that gave us Katrina.

I found it interesting that he saw us as a nation pulling together, and suggested that that was indicia that we would pull apart in a revolution.

One big problem with the idea of a revolution that wouled presumably give us a more activist government is that it was governmental failures that led to a lot of the problems we saw. Overall, the private sector reacted much more quickly.

Indeed, WallMart had supplies moving into the area well ahead of the huricane. Apparently, they were watching the storm's approach much more closely than was the Governor of LA. (This is typical for the company - Thomas Friedman talked about it in his book "The World is Flat", that the company has meteorologists on staff so that they can have, for example, extra generators and water on the floor when huricanes hit. This isn't done through altruism, but rather to maximize sales. And yet - the best supply system in the world was able to easily out perform the government. (And also note that they helped lead in altruism too here).

So, does he really think that we are going to issue in an era of even bigger government after this?

Tom Paine said...

The entire BBC is an organization on government dole -- and they've developed an unshakable conviction of their permanent entitlement to it -- no matter how incompetent and intellectually flabby they become.

Ending the license fee is their only hope for future relevance -- a slim hope.

stavr0s said...

I lived in England for six frightening years. They can't make a commode that will flush the first time. They need to work on basics before criticizing anything American. The real truth about England is middle class English have a tougher life than below poverty line Americans. It's unfortunate that the Brit public has to be taxed to pay for this BBC garbage.

vbspurs said...

Excerpt from Webb's piece:

Speeding along a relatively unscathed motorway between the wonderfully exotic-sounding towns of Pascagoula and Biloxi, I switched on the car radio and heard the tobacco-stained drawl of a southern politician comparing the destruction in his district to that of Hiroshima.

Tasteless I thought. A typical example of American inability to see that suffering in other nations at other times dwarfs anything the average American ever sees.

Tobacco-stained drawl? Tasteless? A typical example?

But I wonder, do Americans reading this catch the real insult sentence in this piece.

Exotic-sounding names


Reminds me of my late-grandfather who, when I invited a little American playpal over for the weekend in our Oxfordshire home, greeted most cordially, and proceeded to her needle it into her all night at the dinner table:

Thanksgiving? Such a wonderfully quaint holiday.

Ah yes, 1776. Did you know the foundation of our house was built in the 1460's?

Of course, pancakes for breakfast sounds very exotic. We must try that one day, don't you think?

And you know, my granddad was a champion much before his time, of all things African (and Brazilian). He was amazingly kind, gracious and caring, usually.

But for some reason, the US got his hackles up, and allowed him to be as nasty as this Webb person is.

And as the BBC typically are to the US (and Israel).

Ugh, I feel like I need a shower after reading that article.


michael a litscher said...

One of the basic problems with the BBC, NPR, and PBS is that they do live on the dole. Little wonder that they rationalize living on the dole as a perfectly acceptable form of existence, and reject the capitalist model of having to compete in a sink-or-swim, evolve-or-die market place.

vbspurs said...

The entire BBC is an organization on government dole --

Which is actually ironic, since of course so many of the BBC apparatchiks are of the upper-middle classes, even scions of the county set by birth, and education.

I once went to the BBC buildings in Bloomsbury to visit a friend who worked there (she's since moved on), and I hadn't heard so many plummy voices since I was at boarding school.

You know, self-hate is a very corrosive thing in life.

In many ways, I feel sorry for those people at the BBC who feel the only way to atone for their privileges in early life, is to say and do as you saw above.

Then that makes them A-OK, and perhaps when the revolution comes, they'll be spared.



vnjagvet said...

Which is why this dreck has little effect on any opinion in this country but that of the so-called "cultural elite". There it is oh, so fashionable to express such views.

leeontheroad said...

to be fair, California Conservative, I agree with this:

"What Katrina revealed is that not everyone is productive."

But I would add that that included the upper echelons of government.

Grim said...

Y'all should have read to the end of the piece. Webb doesn't just ask the question, "whether there will be a revolution." He answers it, thus:

'No, there will not -- because American charity, goodwill, and initiative are enough to counterbalance the failures of her government.'

Read the passage about the man 'with a chainsaw and two handguns.' This isn't a hit piece. It's as close as a British socialist can come to an ode to America. He can't say, "How I love her!" like John Wayne did. But he does say, effectively, 'In spite of everything -- wow.'

TallDave said...

This strikes me as the as the whining of proponents of a system that look at America's 30% hugher standard of living and desperately feel the need to justify themselves and bolster their flagging self-esteem.

Ann Althouse said...

Victoria: The phrase "tobacco-stained drawl" was what originally made me want to do a post about this article, but then I saw that he acknowledged that his prejudice took him in the wrong direct, so I didn't slam him for that.

Grim: LOL.

Jeff Faria said...

The idea constantly floated from socialist-leaning states and individuals is that socialism will trump human greed and inefficiency. It's never in so many words, of course, but that's the gist. Of course, it doesn't. It never has. Every attempt to do this has failed. What capitalism does is create so MUCH wealth that it, uh, overflows the levees of greed, sloth and self-interest. More people have a chance at a decent life.

One byproduct of this is that some folks not only become wealthy, but obsecenely so. Yet this does not mean capitalism produces more poor, as is often implied, than other systems. It does produce (as the New York Times loves to remind us) a greater 'gap' between the wealthy and the poor.

These hurricanes are being used as opportunity for socialist-leaning Europeans and others to assault capitalism. One can hardly blame them, since the normal state of affairs has the US bailing out socialism's myriad failures. If we were to bow to their marching orders, exactly who would the world look to, to lead them out of the next recession?

Don't forget your principles in the face of current events, as George Bush now seems to be doing. Remember that in an earlier time, these hurricanes would have crippled our economy for years, not merely slowed it. Remember who leads the world out of dark times, and remember why.

Exurban Jon said...

Their can never be a revolution when the "oppressed" are passively waiting on a monthly check from the government. They might whine, seeth and manufacture conspiracy theories, but they will never do anything that could disturb that check coming on the 30th.

Socialism breeds passivity... just look at Western Europe.

ajtooley said...

In the last few weeks my e-mail inbox has been filled with earnest messages from fellow parents about places we can give money to victims of Katrina, drop off teddy bears we no longer want, dispatch clothes for which we have grown too fat and so on...

Americans have given with unbridled enthusiasm and generosity.

Is that not something governments do?

Roughly translated: "I gave at the office."

Anonymous said...

So, what's Eurotopia's excuse for letting tens of thousands die in a comparatively mild heat wave? A heat wave during which most of our socialist betters couldn't be bothered to break away from their mandatory six week vacation long enough to check on grandma?

Anonymous said...

Stavros: I lived in England for six frightening years. They can't make a commode that will flush the first time.

P.J. O'Rourke described Britain as a country with an eighteenth century class system and seventeenth century plumbing.

Anonymous said...

Smug? Seemed more wistful to me my fine rethuglican apologizer.

Nancy Reyes said...

ah, the BEEB...
the bad news is that CNNInternational is almost as bad...and many people think CNNI is is's run by Brits from Hong Kong...

Allan@Aberdeen said...

Why are you allowing a lefty agitator like Matt Frei into your country? Don't your lews against sedition apply to foreigners like Frei?

Arthur Parry said...

Is this sort of bile new, or is it just being revealed by the internet?

It's very sad to see the severe degradation of the Atlantic relationships in recent years, but what can you do when the bridge is being burned from the other end?

The Drill SGT said...


I assume he was writing for the UK folks from the frontier. Having said that, my major issues with the article ae focused on the missing links in this section that misrepresent th facts and those responsible:
"Will the American social and economic system - which creates the wealth that pays for billionaires' private jets, and the poverty which does not allow for a bus fare out of New Orleans - be addressed? "

(INSERT: Bus fare didn't matter. There was a Plan for evacuation that called for the use of local school and transit. Free buses were available, but the local leadership didn't use them per the plan. A free EMPTY passenger train left NOLA the night before the storm. The local government turned down the offer of free seats and did not inform the citizens. By the time that buses were considered, they had been flooded out. Houston didn't make those mistakes. END INSERT)

"It has been tinkered with before of course, sometimes as a result of natural disasters. There were for instance plenty of buses on hand for this week's Rita evacuation. "
How is poverty relevant to this set of enhanced facts?

XWL said...

Attacking the Beeb for Anti-American bias is grabbing at low hanging fruit and hardly worth the effort.

Defending the Anglo-American alliance against these clueless hate mongerers is important though, and it would seem that the current leadership in both countries are too smart to let the chattering get in the way of the cooperation.

(and the poor attendance at the anti-war rallies both in London and DC suggests that the respective public opinions of our nations aren't being well represented by the AP/WaPo/NYT/CNN/PBS/et al or the BBC)

godfodder said...

I would love to see a study comparing the actual wealth of Britain's poor versus America's poor. Not just in terms of hard money, but in terms of goods and services. I suspect that the British (and other Europeans) would find they have a whole lot less to crow about than the BBC led them to believe.

John Surratt said...

I have been listening to so many comments about how poor people in New Orleans are I was surprised. Yet the citizens whom NPR interviewed from the ninth ward that I heard on my ride to/from work were a Police captain, an MBA, the wife of a truck driver. All very middle class people who probably make more than I do. I looked in the census New Orleans City, part of Orleans parish. It has a median earned income of 28,645, a mean earned income of 41,992, government and retirement payments take this higher. The per capita income is 17,757. Unemployment was 11.8% and 20% lived in poverty. Sounds as rich as most parts of the US and probable a little better than most of Europe.

miklos rosza said...

inkling mentions that socialism makes people passive. i've been very struck by this passivity in my wife's relatives and friends in france.

hat said...

The american system does not "create" poverty. Communism does not "create" poverty. Poverty is what you start with, and you work your way up from there. a system may be better or worse at letting you get out of it, but no economic system "creates" poverty.

vbspurs said...

Is this sort of bile new, or is it just being revealed by the internet?

It's not new -- but as in all Anglo-American relations, it's complex.

I have to admit, though, I haven't liked many of the commentaries in this thread regarding "the British" when our ire should be towards the BBC.

I don't think I need to remind anyone that Britain provided the cultural and legal framework which allowed this country to flourish, and take off on its own; more successfully, earlier, and with a greater sense of self, than any other country in the Americas.

That's not down to us entirely, but without Britain, Americans would be Mexicans today, with no fences to climb over, or rivers to escape to.

We're also the country, in good, bad, or indifferent times, that is always shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans, including having our lads dying for each other's countries and causes.

So these sniping commentaries about plumbing, and the like, are nearly as infantile as the odious "tobacco-stained" remark made by Webb.

I kept thinking, good Lord, I'm surprised they haven't mentioned our lack of dental hygiene.

No, that's obviously not the way to go in this or any argument regarding Anglo-American relations.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, let me just say this:

Don't think the BBC are representative of British attitudes towards Americans.

By and large, the only sections of society that are condenscending towards Americans are the upper-classes, and even then, they don't reject Americans: they just feel threatened by them.

And the working-classes to have their problems, vis-a-vis Americans, largely because of jealousy and frustration.

It's the heart of Britain, the middle-classes, as ever the silent majority, who have a sneaking liking for the Americans.

They admire their can-do attitude, their fighting spirit, and their frankness.

As I alluded to, they may not always come out and say that, but believe me when I say that admiration exists.

And if there is anything that defines the British most, is that when someone is being unfair or unjust towards someone, we take a twisted delight in going against that opinion.

The more the elite media, led by the BBC but working hand-in-glove with the Guardian, et. al., dumps on the US and Americans, the more the British will be put off by their unfairness.

That's already the case now.

It's very sad to see the severe degradation of the Atlantic relationships in recent years, but what can you do when the bridge is being burned from the other end?

Congratulations, Arthur, on this comment above having been Instapundited.

Victoria who has straight, white teeth and a flush toilet

thibaud said...

Anyone who's been to a London dinner party, or listened to British professional colleagues discuss the US or US politics, knows that Americans in London are not among friends. This is obvious even from the press coverage, or the current list of non-musical West End dramatic offerings, which seethe with hatred and bitterness. What we in the US view as loony left ravings from academic-town and VillageVoice/San Fran-style marginals is standard fare for any educated Briton, and a lot of the uneducated as well. In fact, the higher up you go on the UK social scale, the deeper is the hatred of the US. (Read a rant by David Cornwell/John Le Carre sometime for a taste of right-wing Amerophobia.)

The Beeb has been a reliable spouter of yank-hating spin, sensationalism and nonsense for years, elevating topics and stories that embarrass the US above those that show to advantage US democracy, capitalism and culture/education.

For old sovietologists who used to read the Soviet Union's hate organ, Pravda, the image of the US as presented by The Beeb is quite familiar: social Darwinism, economic crisis, cultural crassness, and scientific and technical incompetence. The only difference is the lack of cartoons with $$$ emblazoned everywhere and snarling, porcine capitalists in top hats (rely on Steve Bell of the Guardian and Le Monde's "Serguei", also Der Spiegel, for those).

An experiment: read the BBC website for two weeks and count the stories under "Americas" that deal with any of the following:
-- evangelicals, scientologists, cultists generally
-- NASA failures or catastrophes
-- obesity or junk food
-- pollution, energy consumption
-- hollywood weirdoes or idiotarians
-- poverty, homelessness

Now count the number of articles dealing with America's
-- nobellists, incl those at universities in Texas (3 at UT-Southewestern Med Center alone)
-- spectacular advances in any area of technology or science
-- athletic superiority, or the beauty of American women
-- environmental progress and legislation
-- ordinary Americans' extraordinary generosity and decency, regardless of religious belief or party affiliation
-- huge advance in the number and % of middle-class african-Americans (many of whom are reversing the postwar migration and returning to the supposedly benighted American South), a group whose income dwarfs that of the average Briton, or the huge increase in home ownership by minorities, or college attendance by minorities, or Cabinet and senior-level positions held by minorities across the American elite....

Don't be surprised if the former group of BBC stories outnumbers the latter by 10:1.

Pat Patterson said...

It's always interesting to get the European perspective on the quasi-socialist states in Latin America, and to reveal just how badly these countries are run. I wonder how this writer was able to obtain this insight with a byline from Washington DC?.....What, he wasn't talking about Cuba or Venezuela? Now I'm thoroughly confused.

starboardside said...

Bloody British Commies.

Lori C. said...

My family just returned from a trip to Disneyworld where we met A LOT of British visitors. They all were nice and friendly and when we conversed I got the idea that Brits really like the U.S. Of course, I suppose they wouldn't be spending their vacation here if they didn't. I guess when you read or hear what the BBC has to say about us, you have to take it with a grain of salt and remember that the BBC doesn't speak for all the Brits.

Strooth said...

Hmm. You people seem to be getting AWFULLY defensive. Seems you'll accept criticism from a fellow -American, but the moment a foreigner offers muted negativity you get upset.
Come on - don't let it ruin your weekend.