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Monthly Archives: April 2007

While The International Herald Tribune is running an Iranian ad for bids to build two new reactors in Iran, The New York Sun is performing the more useful service of pointing out yet more perils of depending on the United Nations to stop the Iranian bomb program. Today’s Sun carries a story by UN reporter Benny Avni, noting that America’s new ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, is off to a troubling start. Last Tuesday, his second day on the job, Khalilzad lunched at his new residence with Kofi Annan’s former righthand man, Iqbal Riza.

Who is Iqbal Riza? He’s the Sandy Berger of the UN — Annan’s former chief of staff who during the Oil-for-Food investigation spent months shredding documents from the files of the UN’s executive suite on the 38th floor. According to the reports of Paul Volcker’s inquiry into Oil-for-Food, Riza also gave investigators a curious version of his own role in the multi-billion-dollar Oil-for-Food scandal. Maybe Khalilzad before he hosts any more lunches should download a copy of the Volcker Committee’s final report on the UN mismanagement of Oil-for-Food, released Sept. 7, 2005, Volume III, and simply search on the name “Riza.” Among the many items that raise disturbing questions about Riza, there is such stuff as Riza “told the Committee that he had minimal involvement” with Oil-for-Food, but “Mr. Riza played a greater role than he was willing to state.” Riza was the “primary point of access to the Secretary-General” and along with meeting with Iraqi officials, he received and reviewed important documents, including specific allegations of Saddam’s corrupt and sanctions-busting demands for kickbacks, which Annan’s office somehow never reported to the Security Council, and neither Annan nor Riza ever mentioned to the public… highly germane though it would have been to the heated 2002-2003 UN debate over toppling Saddam.

Riza was also Kofi Annan’s righthand man back in 1994, when Annan as head of peacekeeping waved aside a clear warning of the impending genocide in Rwanda – and told UN peacekeepers not to interfere.

Riza, a native of Pakistan, has close ties to Iran, which may explain why Khalilzad might have figured it was a good idea to invite him for lunch. But where do Riza’s loyalties lie? After his Oil-for-Food shredding was discovered, in late 2004, he retired from the UN, only to be brought back by Annan as a “special adviser” on an Iranian-grandfathered Iranian-tilted new UN enterprise known as the Alliance of Civilizations. The Alliance was the UN outfit that invited former Iranian President Mohamed Khatami to the U.S. last September, which allowed Khatami to embark within the U.S. on an anti-U.S. propaganda tour that dovetailed with the UN debate over Iran’s flagrant violation of an August 31 deadline to stop its bomb program.

The question by now is: Why is Iqbal Riza still in New York at all?

Perhaps our new ambassador to the UN has his own reasons for believing there are gains to chatting with a former Annan-acolyte whose resume includes doing UN headquarters sentry duty during the Rwandan genocide, covering up Saddam’s kickbacks during Oil-for-Food, shredding documents during the subsequent investigation, and last fall (while Annan was telling the Iranians not to worry about violating the UN resolution) bringing an Iranian mouthpiece to the U.S. as a special guest of the UN. But if Khalilzad really feels he must talk with Riza, don’t dignify it with lunch at the residence. Paper-bag it in a utility closet, preferably near an industrial-size shredder, as a reminder of what the advice is worth.

New York Dogfight Over Petfood

April 28th, 2007 - 12:53 am

For some relief from the apocalyptic doings on the international scene, here’s a New York State dog and cat fight in which we can all hope the animals win. It began with a proposal so dumb you just know it had to come from a politician — in this case, we have a bill introduced by a New York state senator, a Republican from the Big Apple, Frank Padavan, who wants to hit New York state residents — who already pay some of the highest taxes in the country — with a special 3% tax on pet food and pet supplies. The New York Sun broke the news, dubbing Padavan’s plan the Paw and Claw tax, in an April 20 story headlined “Albany Eyes a New Tax — on Pets.” Padavan told the Sun’s reporter, Jacob Gershman, that his aim is to help animals by funneling the pet-care tax into animal shelters. But it sounds like before the esteemed state senator goes any further, he needs to re-visit economics 101. A tax on pet supplies raises the household cost of feeding Fido and the felines, and is thus a disincentive to take on a pet. That means fewer dogs and cats in loving homes, and more on the streets and in the shelters. Which is the very opposite of this kindness to animals that Padavan says he wants to achieve.

Over at Fox News, one of my former colleagues from way-back-when at the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, David Asman, tried to set the senator straight in a column headlined “A Paw and Claw Tax Will Bite Pet-Owners.” Padavan’s office snarled back, saying the senator stands “adamantly” behind his proposed pet levy. The Sun then took a swipe at the perversity of “The Fido Tax.” Now Asman has another piece out on Paw and Claw, elaborating on how Padavan’s tax is a microcosm of big, bad tax-and-spend government, in which the politicians come out way ahead of those they claim to be helping. Of course, if New York politicians ever got around to actually lowering taxes, New Yorkers who love animals would have more money to donate directly to shelters (instead of having it grabbed by the state and filtered through the bureaucracy). Animal lovers could also afford to take in more pets. Instead, animals in New York state are now about to bear the brunt of tooth and claw taxation. So — what next? Will the senator back off? Or will Albany go ahead and help itself from Fido’s food bowl?

From Bangkok, via Malaysia’s Bernama news agency, comes a breaking story headlined “Myanmar Abusing UN Aid, Says Human Rights Group.” The lead sentence tells a story familiar to those who have been following the UN Cash-for-Kim scandal in North Korea, or, before that, the UN Oil-for-Food scandal in Iraq. It says: “The military junta in Myanmar [Burma] has embarked on forced labour, extortion and land confiscation in several projects funded or supported by United Nations agencies, the Karen Human Rights Group claimed today.”

Here we go again, with yet more reasons to question the UN’s predilection for collaborating with tyrants, all in the name of good works. The effect is to fortify the grip on ordinary people of the very tyrants whose misrule causes poverty and suffering — which the UN then purports to help with yet more aid. It’s great business for tyrants, and great business for the UN. But talk about a vicious cycle for the poor and oppressed, who are actually harmed, although in theory they are the reason that billions of U.S. tax dollars meant for aid get turned over the UN.

This latest tale features all the usual UN suspects — familiar from both Cash for Kim and Oil-for-Food — including the UN Development Program, UNICEF, and the Food and Agriculture Organization, along with a number of other aid outfits.

The news story draws on a 121-page report released April 24 in Bangkok by a small human rights outfit, the Karen Human Rights Group (“Karen” is the name of a Burmese ethnic minority) which according to its web site has spent years “documenting the human rights situation in rural Burma by working directly with rural villagers who are suffering abuses such as forced labour, systematic destruction of villages and crops, forced relocation, extortion, looting, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual assault and summary executions.”

The report goes on to allege that “The vast majority of these abuses are committed by soldiers and officials of the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC), Burma’s ruling military junta.”

There is plenty in this report that bears looking into, such as the allegation that the FAO has paid the Burmese junta $14 million for a crop cultivation program which the junta may be diverting into a crop cultivation scheme involving “widespread forced labour and extortion, and aims to produce biofuel for military use.” No doubt we will be hearing more both from and about the UN in response to these allegations. For now, here’s an excerpt from the report, which ought to provoke a lot of thought in Washington about what UN programs like the UNDP and UNICEF are really doing in the field:

“The SPDC [the Burmese junta] has been able to utilise large internationally-funded projects to further its political agenda and undermine the rights of villagers in Karen areas. UNICEF, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UNAIDS, CARE and Medecins du Monde, for example, all provide funding for the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association, a coercive parastatal agency controlled by the SPDC and implicated in widespread extortion as part of its vigorous recruitment drives, wherein villagers are ordered to provide a quota of ‘members’ roughly equivalent to one woman per household, and pay money to the organisation for their membership applications. In some areas, villagers have been led to believe that access to the UNICEF-funded polio innoculation programmes requires that they enlist in the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation, another coercive parastatal organisation involved in similar coercive recruitment practices and demands for money.”

UNICEF’s Turn for North Korean Propaganda

April 22nd, 2007 - 5:48 pm

Earlier this season, we had the UN Development Program featuring a colorful photo of singing young acolytes of Kim Jong Il on the cover of a UNDP anti-corruption media fellowship brochure. Now, in similar vein, we have UNICEF claiming in a press release that North Korea “faces potential food crisis due to last year’s flooding.”

What’s wrong with that statement? Well, it’s a piece of propaganda quite likely more deliberate and in many ways far worse than the UNDP’s Orwellian advertising of the singing young pioneers of Pyongyang.

North Korea’s food crises — past, present and imminent — are not due to flooding. Neither are they due to global warming, global cooling, or the phases of the moon, all of which seem to have effects suddenly far less lethal as soon as the forces of Mother Nature cross the DMZ into South Korea. The true cause of North Korea’s impending food shortage, as well as the annual food shortages for the past half dozen years, plus the brutal famine of the half dozen years prior to that, is, was and will be the tyrannical policies of the Kim Jong Il regime. If UNICEF wants to alert us to the agonies of North Korea, how about a standard of truth-in-advertising that rises at least slightly above the level of Kim’s own propaganda?

Instead of covering for Kim, what UNICEF ought to be telling us is that North Korea, as usual, “faces potential food crisis due to murderous, wasteful, degrading, abusive tyranny of Kim Jong Il’s regime.”

In America, college students normally graduate at about the age of 21. Cho Seung-hui, when he went on his murder spree was reportedly in his senior year, but aged 23. Somewhere along the line, he lost a year, or maybe two. Possibly when his family moved to the U.S., since he seems to have graduated late from high school. Perhaps it is of no great significance, but I have not seen that gap explained. What happened?

A UN Fish Tax?

April 21st, 2007 - 6:35 pm

The UN still hasn’t come clean about the extent of bribery in its own purchasing of peacekeeping rations — but now the UN wants to mess with your meals. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is floating proposals to “certify” fish and seafood farming products worldwide, to ensure that all seafood farmed in captivity is produced in a “sustainable, healthy, socially responsible and environmentally-friendly way.” That all sounds great, except the assumption here is that one central UN authority is going to decide just what that means in practice.

In the information age, this is exactly the kind of thing that individual countries and the global marketplace ought to be able to sort out much more efficiently — and with a lot more integrity — than the secretive, unaccountable and exploitation-prone UN globocracy. But that would not produce nearly as many jobs, per-diem conference fees and projects for the UN. So what we have right now is the FAO’s Lahsen Ababouch declaring, according to an FAO press release, that the private sector, and the decisions of sovereign states are not to be trusted, that “as certification schemes proliferate, consumers and producers face choices as to which to trust. Competing schemes could confuse consumers, causing them to loose (sic) confidence in standards and undermine the entire approach.”

Translation:

Choice for consumers? No way, the UN doesn’t want that.

Competition? Uh-uh, the UN doesn’t like that either.

Bottom line: On your dime, Mr. Ababouch and his colleagues are busy right now looking for ways they can tell you from whom you can buy your dinner, and force you to pay — in the form of higher prices, fewer choices, and of course more UN salaries — what would be, in effect, a UN fish tax.

Warning Signs and Mass Murder

April 19th, 2007 - 2:16 am

The news networks are consumed right now with discussion of the warning signs flashed by Cho Seung-Hui… How could authorities have dismissed them? Why didn’t anyone act? What might have been done?

Meanwhile, linked below is a great big warning sign, flashed by an outfit that has already demonstrated its devotion to mass murder, is racing to acquire the world’s deadliest weapons, whose president has shown considerable interest in annihilating an entire nation of seven million people and whose chant is “Death to Israel! Death to America!” What are we doing about this?

Lest it get lost in today’s news out of Virginia, a note here about the latest tale of UN scandal, involving yet another UN entity, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, or DESA. This latest UN doozy involves allegations of gross UN mismanagement of a UN project meant to promote — you guessed it — good governance. That initial flap has now escalated into a fight between UN officials and the UN’s own auditors, following allegations by the government of Greece that millions earmarked to fight corruption were diverted into UN featherbedding, unauthorized projects and mysterious consultancies.

The full story, by the Executive Editor of Fox News, George Russell, is linked here.

Note: I have collaborated with George Russell on a number of stories over the past few years, including tales of corruption in the UN Procurement Department, and “The Curious Career of Maurice Strong.” I did not work with George on this one, but strongly recommend his story — which exposes yet another fractal of the vast, rotten and self-serving empire that is today’s UN.

When the news broke about the shootings at Virginia Tech, one of the first stories that came to mind was an essay widely read in writing courses at American schools: Jo Ann Beard’s “The Fourth State of Matter.” It’s a skillfully written tale — a good teaching tool for writers, and a story I read years ago with great interest — in which the core event is the shooting spree at the University of Iowa in 1991, in which a Chinese physics student murdered five people and paralyzed a sixth for life. In yesterday’s killings, there were so many eerie echoes of that horror that I pulled the story off the web and re-read it.

Now we learn that the shooter at Virginia Tech, Cho Seung-Hui, was an English major. In the course offerings at Virginia Tech this spring semester, there is “English 3724: Creative Writing: Creative Nonfiction,” covering “the works of writers like Jo Ann Beard,” among others. Did Cho take this course? Did he read that story?

I mention this because I expect that before the investigating and press coverage is done, we’ll find out. If so, I’d like to put down a marker right now, to say that whatever sent Cho on his hideous mission of mass murder, it surely had far deeper roots than anything he might have read in an English class.

Shades of Kofi Annan saying he could “do business” with Saddam Hussein.

Now we have the U.S. envoy to the Six-Party Talks on North Korea, Chris Hill, chatting away on NPR about how in his work he can “rely” on the North Koreans.

Here’s a link to the broadcast, and below is a transcipt of the exchange in which Hill, spinning like an Iranian centrifuge, spells out his astounding piece of information:

NPR: Do you think you have found North Koreans you can look in the eye and trust?

Hill: Well, I think there are people we can talk to seriously, where we can lay out some ideas for how to go forward, where they will lay out some ideas, and we can rely on what they say, that they will do what they say. So, if that’s what you mean by trust, I guess there are.

Just who are these people? And what have they been telling Hill they will do?

Clearly he’s not talking about the North Koreans he’s actually been negotiating with, because they told him on Feb 13 that within 60 days North Korea would shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and disclose all its nuclear programs. The deadline is tomorrow, and none of that has happened. Instead, the main event has been Hill’s hustling to get back to Kim Jong Il some $25 million that had been frozen at the behest of the U.S. Treasury in Banco Delta Asia in Macau. Here’s my column today on that $25 million, and what might be called the State Department program for Plutonium in Our Time.