Wednesday, February 22

The New York Times sorta profiles John Batchelor's show

Pundita notes the writer manages to avoid mentioning that John's show represents a revolution in news broadcasting and sets a high standard for foreign-policy related reporting and analysis. The best parts of the piece: when John is talking.

He Takes the Shout Out of Talk Radio
The New York Times
Published: February 19, 2006

"WITH his soft-spoken demeanor and a preppy, bookish wardrobe that might seem more appropriate for a college professor, John Batchelor is not a particularly noticeable figure along the tree-lined streets of Briarcliff Manor, where he is one of Westchester's newest boldface names. Other than his involvement at the town's local Congregational church, where his wife is a pastor, Mr. Batchelor generally keeps a low profile.

But tune in to his near-nightly talk show on WABC radio and Mr. Batchelor is nothing if not provocative.

In the last five years, Mr. Batchelor has carved an unusual slot in the radio station's typically conservative lineup, where he is the host of a show from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on weeknights that is heard nationwide. He does not stray far from the political leanings of Laura Ingraham and some of his other WABC counterparts.

But in a landscape of radio often dominated by shouting, Mr. Batchelor's show has enjoyed the rare distinction of being a source of sophisticated — and at times impossibly erudite — political debate and quirky subject matter.

Mr. Batchelor, 57, has described his show as the BBC without British accents, but others in the world of talk radio have referred to it as NPR on drugs. A typical episode combines world news reports with interviews of guests who are almost always in another time zone and tend to run the gamut from foreign correspondents to leaders of militant groups in the Middle East, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

"It's so much more exciting to interview terrorists than American politicians, who never, ever have anything interesting to say," Mr. Batchelor explained.

There is no call-in segment to the John Batchelor Show. Mr. Batchelor prefers instead to let his guests do the talking and then move rapidly from one subject to the next, with no downtime. And for added suspense, each segment is set to the strains of tense and sometimes warlike music from films like "Hotel Rwanda" and "Gladiator."

"This is an audio experience," Mr. Batchelor said. "Providing as many different voices, and as many different accents, and as many different points of view of the same story as possible gives the listener the feeling, correctly, that whatever we're covering is a global event."

For Mr. Batchelor, a former novelist, there is a good reason for the show's global perspective. In his world, segments on the show are not so much "reports" or "interviews" as they are "chapters" in what Mr. Batchelor considers the larger story of the United States in a post-9/11 world.

The show first went on the air the day after the attack on the World Trade Center. At the time, Mr. Batchelor had been appearing on a weekend radio show on WABC as a conservative commentator and conspiracy theorist, delving into assassinations and political mysteries.

On the weekend before Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Batchelor "happened to do a whole night's worth of talking on this weirdo guy over on the other side of the planet called Osama Bin Laden," recalled Lee Mason, Mr. Batchelor's longtime producer. On Sept. 12, a WABC producer called Mr. Batchelor and his liberal co-host at the time, Paul Alexander, and begged them to move into the time slot held by Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Ms. Mason said.

The show was extended week after week until it eventually became a mainstay. Mr. Alexander left in 2003 to resume his career as a writer.

Mr. Batchelor said that every international event that he and his guests have debated — elections in Haiti, for example, or revolution in Nepal — is in some way connected to the conflict in the Middle East.

Among his favorite topics these days is Iran, he said, because "that's the next theater of conflict."

"I feel like I'm telling a series of stories every night," he said. "And they're all in the context of telling the story of the war, the threat to the United States, which I think is profound and will last a century or more."

With its climactic music and heavy subject matter, the show might not seem like one that most people would choose to listen to as they drift off to sleep. But in fact it is currently the top-rated show in talk radio for his time slot. Still, even for its most sophisticated acolytes, the show's content can at times be tough to decipher. When the on-air light flicked on in Mr. Batchelor's studio in Midtown Manhattan on a recent evening, for instance, the host jumped straight into an interview with a philosophy professor at Princeton, Kwame Anthony Appiah, who was asked to discuss cosmopolitanism and its relationship to the so-called cartoon riots in the Middle East.

A half-hour later, an astronomy professor at a Mexican university was on the air, describing in detail his theories on the genesis of genetic material from the "prebiotic soup" that existed on Earth billions of years ago.

“In talk radio, you're only supposed to be popular if you're tempestuous, confrontational or bigoted," Mr. Batchelor said, sitting at a desk cluttered with microphones and computers. "In my opinion, talk radio has consistently underestimated its audience. My show works because it's very smart and so is the audience."

On the show Mr. Batchelor rarely hides his own conservative views, but some of his most frequent guests are also his political opposites. Katrina vanden Heuvel, who has been on several times and is the editor of The Nation magazine, said she thought the show was "an antidote to the trivialization of news and the classic talk radio format."

"Though I disagree with him about 90 percent of the time, he has had me on and he's respectful of my views," she said of Mr. Batchelor. "He lets me speak my piece, which you can't say about many of our media formats today." [...]

Saturday, February 18

Transformational Diplomacy

Michael Wright: What do you think of Condoleezza Rice’s announced changes at State, USAID, and the concept of "Transformational Diplomacy?"

Pundita: The meaning of the term is clear enough. The US will tag US-controlled development dollars to how well foreign governments adhere to US standards for democratic government reforms --

MW: What I’m hearing is a lot more talk about trade than democracy – how much the developing nations are willing to kowtow to WTO.

Pundita: Since when has State not been pushing that agenda? That’s old news. My sense is that Transformational Diplomacy talk is the clearest sign that the US has tacitly acknowledged that the United Nations is not the place to promote certain US agendas.

MW: Despite the changes Bolton is bringing about [at the UN]?

Pundita: Streamlining the bureaucracy there, getting rid of the worst corruption – efforts in that regard will go forward, but I think the US government has been coming round to the idea that bilateralism is the best path for dealing with certain types of aid and development situations.

Keep in mind that USAID stands for "US Agency for International Development," not "US foreign aid," although USAID does provide outright aid.

MW: Many people don’t make the distinction between aid and development even though it’s an important one. If they’re throwing in the towel with the UN, what about the World Bank? Do you think the US will eventually pull out of the Bank?

Pundita: Not as long as the Bank exists. I don’t think they’re so much throwing in the towel as getting a better picture of US limitations working through multilateral institutions –- what can and cannot be accomplished through the Bank and UN.

MW: You mean, what the American people can reasonably expect their tax dollars to accomplish at those organizations?

Pundita: That’s one way of putting it, although I was thinking in narrower terms: how State and the Pentagon can better coordinate strategies using bilateral approaches in certain cases and multilateral ones -- for example the UN and the Bank --in others.

I’m seeing a more flexible, empirical approach taking shape in US foreign policy; Rice’s announcements in January and the reasonably positive response she received from Congress suggest that the approach has gone beyond the talking stage.

MW: But you’ve said many times that State already has too much power.

Pundita: I am wary about the new post that has been created – Development Czar – and I am very concerned that changes at State are a bandage over festering wounds. Yet it’s too early to do anything but study the unfolding situations.

MW: You think [Transformational Diplomacy ] is a new day, though?

Pundita: That depends greatly on the next US administration. They could backtrack --return US foreign policy to following the lead of Brussels. Nothing is jelled at this point.

MW: So, the possible dawn of a new day?

Pundita: To be cautious, yes.

* * * * *
Three 1/06 articles related to the discussion:

"U.S. foreign aid machinery being reshaped
Associated Press – January 20, 2006
WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is reshaping the $19 billion U.S. foreign aid program and has appointed the government's global AIDS coordinator to run it.

She said Randall Tobias, a former corporate executive who headed two major American companies before entering government, will be administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and will hold the additional new title of director of foreign assistance, equivalent to deputy secretary.

Rice said Thursday the changes were to further the Bush administration's "transformational diplomacy" goals. That is the concept of using aid as a way of bringing good government to poorly run countries.

"Foreign assistance is an essential component of our transformational diplomacy," Rice said. "In today's world, America's security is linked to the capacity of foreign states to govern justly and effectively."

On Wednesday, she defined it this way: "Transformational diplomacy is rooted in partnership, not paternalism; in doing things with other people, not for them."
Thursday's bureaucratic shuffle built on changes in effect since late in the administration of former President Clinton, when Congress tried to have the State Department absorb USAID. That move fizzled, but while remaining independent, the agency came under "the direction and general foreign policy guidance" of the secretary of state.

As the new USAID administrator, Tobias replaces Andrew Natsios, who resigned to join the faculty of Georgetown University.

Some outside experts had expected Rice to make such a move, perhaps by naming a deputy secretary for development. The administrative formula Rice chose saved the Bush administration a probable battle with Congress because the change will not require the paperwork and the expense of officially restructuring the State Department.

Rice said the change will make USAID more effective.

Early reactions from members of Congress were generally positive. Sen. Patrick Leahy, senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, said Rice has outlined weaknesses in the current foreign aid system. "I will support any changes that will make these programs more efficient and effective," the Vermont senator said, but "I want to be sure that USAID's long-term development goals do not take a back seat to a short-term political agenda."

Leahy's counterpart on the House Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., also praised Rice's move but said it didn't go far enough. She said she wants to end "the fragmentation that exists with the dozen or more other U.S. government agencies that also provide international assistance, most notably the Department of Defense."

Lowey recommended that President Bush support Rice in bringing "the totality of our foreign assistance programs" under State Department control.
Larry Knowles, a foreign aid specialist with the bipartisan Congressional Research Service, said in a National Public Radio interview that the restructuring "could actually work both to the advantage and the disadvantage of USAID being the premier development assistance agency."

"While it will bring it closer to the State Department," Knowles said, "it will be another signal of demoting the USAID staff's status in deciding where the money should be spent."

Groups Worried About New US Aid Czar
Emad Mekay

WASHINGTON, Jan 19 (IPS) - The United States has unveiled a new plan for how it spends foreign aid dollars that links U.S. security to democracy and development overseas.

But development activists fear the new overhaul could be ideologically motivated and criticised the appointment of a new aid director who they say had performed poorly in his previous position.

"In today's world, America's security is linked to the capacity of foreign states to govern justly and effectively," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday as she announced the plan. "Our foreign assistance must help people get results."

The new re-structuring plan unifies U.S. aid agencies, aid accounts and individual programmes under one director. President George W. Bush said he will appoint Randall Tobias, who now heads the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the U.S. global AIDS programme.

Tobias will also be the new administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and will oversee all U.S. foreign aid work. He will also carry the title of Deputy Secretary for Development.

Around 80 percent of all U.S. assistance goes through USAID and the State Department.

Tobias takes over USAID, which works in more than 100 countries with a 14-billion-dollar annual budget, from outgoing administer Andrew S. Natsios, whose resignation was announced last month.

He previously served as chairman, president and chief executive officer of the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company. Officials from the State Department say the new changes will involve a sharper focus on the spread of democracy and the push not to have "failed states" without U.S. intervention.

Under the overhauled programme, Rice said, State Department officials and those from USAID, which has been independent since its founding in 1961, will have to exchange experiences and work. Diplomats will now get training in "complicated foreign assistance programmes", she said.

Rice said she will also initiate talks with Congress soon as to how the U.S. can better use its foreign assistance.

The State Department says that U.S. money should be used to empower developing countries to strengthen security, to consolidate democracy and to increase trade.

Rice also said that Washington should further link its aid to defeat terrorist threats. In her speech Thursday, she invoked the attacks of 9/11 and noted that the terrorists used the previously failed state of Afghanistan to launch their attacks.

"In the final analysis, we must now use our foreign assistance to help prevent future Afghanistans -- and to make America and the world safer," she said.

Rice named terrorism, weapons proliferation, diseases, and trafficking in persons and drugs as global threats that require the U.S. to develop new diplomatic strategies. She said that without the new changes, U.S. foreign assistance may be ineffective.

"The current structure of America's foreign assistance risks incoherent policies and ineffective programmes and perhaps even wasted resources. We can do better and we must do better," Rice warned Thursday.

But some civil society groups criticised the appointment of Tobias, citing his record in the fight against AIDS.

"Under his direction, HIV prevention programmes have shifted from being based in public health science to being dictated by the abstinence-only-until-marriage ideology of the Bush administration," said James Wagoner, president of the Washington-based Advocates for Youth.

Activists fear that too much ideology in the foreign aid system may derail other important programmes like family planning and population management.

"As head of USAID, Ambassador Tobias will not only be responsible for AIDS funding, but also in charge of population and family planning programmes," concluded Wagoner. "How will his anti-science ideology impact programmes vital to protecting the health of women and young people around the world?"

Tobias' record in the fight against AIDS has also been marred by accusations of favouring drug corporations by displaying a preference for using more expensive, brand-name drugs instead of cheaper, safe generic versions that could have reached many more people in impoverished countries.

"An administrator of USAID should be committed to the most cost-effective and far-reaching response to such international challenges, rather than championing corporate interests and profits," said Ann-Louise Colgan, director for policy analysis and communications at Africa Action.

Advocacy groups have also expressed concerns that sensitive aid programmes will now be run by a pharmaceutical company executive with no experience in development work.

"We feel that these concernsà must raise serious questions about Mr. Tobias' qualifications to run the U.S. Agency for International Development," said Colgan.

The new aid strategy announced by Rice is also part of an overarching restructuring of the State Department that Rice has called "transformational diplomacy". This means U.S. diplomats will have to work directly with foreign citizens to help them "build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system".

Under the plan, areas previously not at the top of development priorities, like the Middle East and Islamic nations, where the U.S. claims it wants to spread democracy, will apparently take precedence.

The secretary said that the new front lines of U.S. diplomacy are in the transitional countries of Africa, Latin America and the Middle East and emerging regional leaders like India, China, Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia and South Africa."(END/2006)

"Rice Explains Aid Restructuring to USAID EmployeesBy Bradley Graham and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 20, 2006; Page A02

"Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice faced a barrage of pointed questions yesterday from employees at the U.S. Agency for International Development, who expressed concerns that an administration move to centralize the management of foreign assistance will weaken the agency and place short-term political goals ahead of long-term development aims.

Rice took the unusual step of holding a town-hall-style meeting with hundreds of USAID employees after announcing the creation of a high-level State Department position to oversee all foreign aid programs.

Rice said the position -- director of foreign assistance -- is intended to bring greater coherence and efficiency to a broad patchwork of often overlapping assistance programs that now total about $19 billion. Randall L. Tobias, a former pharmaceuticals industry executive who has headed the administration's global AIDS program for the past 2 1/2 years, was named to fill the position and also to serve as the new USAID administrator.

The moves eased fears at USAID that the agency, set up in 1961 under President John F. Kennedy, would be merged into the State Department. But it prompted other worries, voiced in the questioning, that USAID's strategic planning role might end up diminished and that the agency's corps of experienced foreign aid specialists might be superseded by Foreign Service officers.

In her nearly hour-long appearance before a standing-room-only crowd gathered in the cavernous Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium next to USAID headquarters, Rice offered assurances that USAID will continue to play a key role in setting development strategy and that the administration will maintain a long-term view on development issues. "If we have a short-term perspective, we will fail," she said.
Several longtime USAID officials who heard Rice said in brief interviews afterward that her decision to hold the meeting was itself a significant gesture, but they also made clear that they will be withholding final judgment about the revamped management structure.

"The plan, in broad strokes, makes sense," said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the interview was not authorized. "But the devil is going to be in the details."

The choice of Tobias drew some criticism. He has little experience in development issues other than the anti-AIDS effort, and some activists have faulted him for placing less emphasis on condom use than on abstinence to reduce the spread of AIDS, and for moving too slowly to promote inexpensive generic drugs.
But his supporters in the administration and in Congress stressed his management skills yesterday. "He has proven in his private and public sector responsibilities that he can successfully manage big organizations and complicated programs," Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

The foreign assistance initiative is part of a series of moves announced by Rice this week under the banner "transformational diplomacy." Her plan, announced Wednesday, to redeploy U.S. diplomats from Europe to difficult assignments in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere received some backing yesterday from the American Foreign Service Association.

J. Anthony Holmes, the association's president, said his group supports the plan in general but is concerned about the security arrangements for diplomats who will be placed in large cities away from capitals. He also questioned whether the government has the financial resources to carry out Rice's vision.

Rice said 100 Foreign Service officers due to rotate into posts in Europe and Washington this summer will get new assignments. Holmes said a number of the officers are halfway through training for such difficult languages as Russian and Polish, and so the new assignments will be "very disruptive for families and individuals."

Tuesday, February 14

Pundita still alive

Clearly the idea for "Pundita Uncut" and "Pundita Encore" blogs has not panned out. I will post an essay this Saturday at Pundita.

Best regards to all,