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Monthly Archives: October 2007

Kofi’s Knighthood

October 28th, 2007 - 11:24 pm

Yes, in the giddy afterlife of his departure from the UN Executive Suite, Kofi Annan has now received an honorary knighthood. In a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace, he was made an honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. We are at least spared the prospect of referring to him as “Sir Kofi.” Unlike Annan’s former deputy, Mark Malloch Brown, who is now both “Sir” and “Lord,” it seems that Annan, not being British, is not entitled to be a “Sir.”

But honestly, who can keep up? Regardless of performance, UN high officials — past and present — seem to move these days through an endless shower of prizes and awards, Nobels and knighthoods, accolades and directorships (Annan has also just joined the board of Ted Turner’s UN Foundation).

Why? Annan by the account of the UN’s own investigation into Oil-for-Food turned in a substandard performance in his administration of the biggest relief program the UN had ever run — failing to blow the whistle on a global gala of corruption that reached multi-billion dollar proportions on his watch (and was reaching its peak right about the time he accepted his 2001 Nobel Prize). Annan failed to acknowledge his own responsibilities, failed to exercise adequate oversight when questions were raised about the UN-related business activities of his own son, and in a series of so-called sweeping “reforms” during his decade in the executive suite, he failed abysmally to reform the UN — bequeathing his successor a minefield of scandals still going off, and leaving U.S. federal prosecutors to sift through assorted cases of UN-related bribery, money-laundering and fraud which inadequate UN oversight and poor management had (to put it generously) failed to stop.

Were there awards for such behavior as bureaucratic passivity in the face of genocide (Annan as head of peacekeeping during the Rwanda slaughter), or hypocrisy in lecturing the world on good governance (Annan’s “Global Compact“), or evasion and obfuscation (how did the family of Kofi Annan’s brother end up with the lease on Kofi’s spacious old NY-state-taxpayer-subsidized apartment?), there might be arguments for an endless cascade of trophies. That might sound less desirable than the current bonanza of decorations and awards, but the way these UN door prizes keep piling up regardless, I’m not sure the prize-winners, or for that matter, the prize-givers, could tell the difference. By now, it’s all part of the ritual.

A Scandal Scorecard

October 25th, 2007 - 1:32 am

The United Nations celebrated UN Day yesterday by praising itself in a multitude of ways (see UN press release, “Celebrations Span the Globe“). Meanwhile, in the real world, Senator Tom Coburn marked the day by putting out a new web site to help address not the glossy UN image, but the gritty reality, noting that the best way to honor the UN would be to clean it up.

No one’s managed that trick so far. The usual routine is that a scandal erupts at the UN, and top UN officials deny, obfuscate, and maybe launch a Potemkin investigation or promise another hollow reform, until no one can figure out what’s going on — and then it’s time for another UN Day. But this year, Coburn has done American taxpayers the service of compiling a roster of current UN scandals. If you want to see what your money helps to support, from the UN’s glorification of tyrants and terrorism, to UN scams raking kickbacks off procurement deals and peddling illicit entry into the United States, it’s worth a look at United Nations Watch.

(Note: The site includes quite a number of press reports, from a wide variety of sources, some of my own among them).

Canada wants to offer a home in Montreal to the UN, or so the Canadian press has been reporting for the past few days. Thank you, Canada! It’s a great idea in so many ways. In New York, it would free up loads of space for parking, apartments, and commercial ventures that actually contribute to the net wealth of the world. It would end the annual UN gridlock in Manhattan, leave the likes of Iran’s Ahmadinejad to set up speaking engagements in Canada instead of at Columbia University, and could save U.S. taxpayers from footing the bulk of the $1.9 billion-plus (and still ballooning) tab for renovating the current UN headquarters at Turtle Bay. It might even reduce the incentives for the U.S. to pour more than $5 billion a year into the UN budget, under the delusional impression that this gives America some sort of clout by way of fueling the UN gravy train. And if Global Warming is as big a deal as Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon says it is, then a move north should be just fine — the UN-ocrats can enjoy their lattes year round in open-air Canadian cafes.

Though why stop at Montreal? I see on the map a come-hither patch jutting just north of Greenland, called Ellesmere Island, with a place by the name of Cape Columbia. Tailor-made for Ahmadinejad’s next UN-hosted trip to North America. Parking, no problem. And UN delegations dedicated to bettering the lot of mankind could concentrate on their business without the distractions of such fripperies as Manhattan restaurants, luxury hotels and jewelry stores.

But alas, the UN won’t even consider it. Below is the exchange that took place Monday at the UN noon briefing between reporter Matthew Russell Lee of the Inner-City Press, and Ban Ki-Moon’s spokeswoman, Michele Montas. (The final line could make you wonder if the UN might best be re-located back to someplace like Mars, where it presumably came from):

Question: Okay, there’s also a very strange — and which maybe you can just shoot down — there’s an article in the Canadian press over the weekend saying that Montreal made a $2.2 billion proposal to the UN to move the UN to Montreal. Have you ever heard of that?

Spokesperson: I’ve heard of it, we are aware of those reports.

Question: Is it true?

Spokesperson: Not that I know of.

Question: There was never a proposal made?

Spokesperson: Well, maybe there was a proposal made but it was not accepted if it was made.

Kofi’s Candy Box

October 18th, 2007 - 4:13 pm

Life is like a box of chocolates. Except if you are Kofi Annan, instead of Forrest Gump, it’s a very very expensive box of extra-fancy Swiss chocolates — and you probably have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get. Kofi’s new candy box is a foundation launched this week called the Global Humanitarian Forum, and –a familiar theme — there’s lots of talk about “mission” but no upfront disclosure about money.

Gone are the hints put out last year by Annan’s old UN executive office that when he stepped down as Secretary-General he would head back to Ghana, set up a foundation devoted to farming and girls’ education and spend his twilight years modestly mixing it up with the common folk. This new foundation is housed in Geneva, which seems to be Annan’s main base these days. And the board is crammed with members of his old UN circle, including Lakhdar Brahimi (who while working as a UN envoy for Annan referred to Israel as the “poison” of the Middle East); and Catherine Bertini (who ran the UN Management Department under Annan from 2003-2005, but somehow failed to do anything about the rampant corruption in the procurement department — leaving it to her successor, Christopher Burnham, to try to clean up the swamp); Jan Egeland (who in the immediate aftermath of the Asian tsunami pointed to the UN’s sugar-daddy American taxpayers as “stingy,” promised full transparency for the tide of money that rolled in, and never fully accounted for where all that money actually went). The board also includes former IMF chief Michel Camdessus (who ran the IMF while it was bailing out big banks and big business in the late 1990s, at the expense of genuinely impoverished people hit with drastic currency devaluations in the developing world); and James Wolfensohn (who ran the World Bank during the years in which it was incubating so much of the corruption its officials are still trying to cover up).

Annan during his decade running the UN was constantly calling for the rest of us to pour money into the organization, while he expanded UN operations on every front from Oil-for-Food to development aid to programs to raise private money and leverage public funds for more uses than apparently even he was able to keep track of. But now that he has retired from the UN, he’s not busy pouring all the resources he can muster into those UN programs he told the rest of us we must support. Instead, he’s got a foundation in Geneva, embellished with former UN credentials. Go figure.

Good Morning, Vietnam… and Libya

October 16th, 2007 - 3:05 pm

Yes, it’s morning, after a fashion, at the UN Security Council, where in the latest round of renewal it has just been decided that in 2008 two of the 10 rotating seats will go to two regulars from the roster of World’s Worst Regimes: Vietnam and Libya — whose “election” the U.S. did not oppose.

Presumably the State Department sees this an enticement to such regimes as Iran and North Korea to drop their nuclear programs, a la Libya. Of course, conventional weapons — however dull — have sufficed for most of the killing done over the past century in two world wars, a host of lesser conflicts, and every terrorist attack to date. It’s not just the weapons that are the problem — it’s tyrannical regimes, which rule by force and fear, and export such stuff to poison the world. But the message of U.S. diplomacy these days seems to be that as long as the world’s worst governments are willing to make due with conventional weapons, there won’t be any more impetus from Washington to speed their murderous systems toward “history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies” — unless we are now meant to infer that President Bush when he used that phrase in his Sept. 20, 2001 address to Congress was trying to describe the UN Security Council.

Another UN Moment: $700,000 in Mystery Money

October 16th, 2007 - 1:57 am

The UN policy of “financial disclosure,” as pioneered by Kofi Annan, does not actually require UN officials to disclose anything whatsoever about their finances to the public. But federal prosecutions into UN-related fraud and money-laundering over the past few years have tipped out an array of documents which, at least in a few cases, have done some of the disclosing for them. Here’s one of the latest, with a lingering mystery attached (as in, where’s the money?):

This case involves a Russian career diplomat, Vladimir Kuznetsov, who served from 1999-2005 on the powerful committee that oversees the UN’s multi-billion-dollar-per-year budget. By 2004 he had become chairman of this budget committee, and the highest-ranking Russian official at the UN. In September, with the feds delving into allegations of UN-related graft, Kuznetsov was arrested and this March he was convicted of conspiring with another Russian UN official, Alexander Yakovlev (who pled guilty in August, 2005 to money-laundering and fraud), to launder more than $300,000 in criminal proceeds derived from what the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan has described as “illegal assistance to companies bidding on UN procurement contracts.” Last Friday, Kuznetsov was sentenced to pay a $73,000 fine and spend 51 months in prison. (Kuznetsov’s lawyer says he will appeal his conviction, and Russia’s Foreign Ministry has pronounced itself disappointed that he has been sentenced to prison, and may seek to have him returned to Russia).

But here’s the puzzle. Kuznetsov while working at the UN on the budget oversight committee quietly set up his own offshore company, called Nikal, and opened an account for Nikal at the Antigua Overseas Bank. Beyond the $310,727 transferred into that account by Yakovlev, which figured in Kuznetsov’s conviction, there was another series of transfers into Kuznetsov’s account, from 2000-2003, totaling more than $700,000 — including one whopping transfer in 2000 for $469,980. Here are government exhibits showing the bank advice slips for six of those transfers, released along with a June 4 sentencing letter.

According to federal prosecutors, in the sentencing letter linked above, “Kuznetsov has failed entirely to acknowledge his receipt of the $736,713 in his Antigua bank account.” Taking into account the additional $300,000-plus which Kuznetsov received into his offshore account from Yakovlev, the prosecutors further state that “Kuznetsov makes no attempt to explain how he disposed of more than one million dollars that he received in his offshore account.” Nor, as of his sentencing last Friday, had Kuznetsov provided any further enlightenment. Why did this former member of the UN budget oversight committee receive that additional $700,000-plus into his offshore account, and where did it all go? … Just one of the many mysteries floating up from Turtle Bay.

A Convenient Prize

October 12th, 2007 - 8:44 pm

So, beyond the Nobel Prize, what is it that Yasser Arafat, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, the United Nations, Mohamed El Baradei and Al Gore all have in common?

The flip answer is that they have all in their time pushed out enough hot air to melt the polar ice caps on Mars, and if anyone thinks that’s an exaggeration about Mars, check out this 2003 report from NASA. (Yes, it seems that even on a planet where homo sapiens has never exhaled at all, let alone fired up an SUV or hopped a longhaul airline flight, ice caps can suffer a volatile existence).

More seriously, here on planet earth, what those on the list above all have in common is that they have all in pursuit of their own ambitions pushed agendas that corrode the real basis for building a better life for all on this planet — which, in a nutshell, is freedom.

Free societies may produce more CO2 (whatever that actually adds up to — or not — in the context of a world climate that was changing long before we got here, and will go on changing long after we are gone). But that’s because they also produce more, per capita, of just about everything good — including ideas, inventions, contraptions and once-undreamt-of ways not only of sustaining human life, but of making it healthier, longer, easier and better. That happens when individuals have the liberty to make their own choices and tradeoffs.

That is not the world envisioned by the list of Nobel laureates above. Arafat’s lethal contribution, devastating to the Palestinians themselves and poisonous in realms beyond, was to cultivate terrorism as a negotiating tactic, war as a means of keeping himself in power, and brutality instead of law. Jimmy Carter, starting with his years as America’s worst president in living memory, made a career of empowering some of the worst tyrants, leaving his successors to try to contend with the horrors emanating from Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran, while he went on to collect donations for his Carter Center from Middle Eastern potentates, and chum around with such folks as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.

Kofi Annan presided from 1997-2006 over a UN morphing into an ever more invasive, intrusive, unaccountable and power-hungry institution — not only cozying up to a corrupt and murderous Saddam Hussein via Oil-for-Food, but aiming through a series of ever-expanding programs to manage the economic development of every country on earth, as well as the weather. And Mohamed El Baradei has run the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency in a manner that has not only failed to stop Iran’s push to acquire the nuclear bomb, but has in effect provided cover while the mullahs pursue this weapon that will greatly expand the reach and influence of their messianic, totalitarian schemes.

As for Al Gore, he’s riding high on the vision of a world in which someone-or-other will decide — for all of us — who may produce what, and how much. In the name of managing the climate, this is one more way of telling people how to live, and what to do, and whom to pay. And who is going to do all that managing, and dictating and toll-collecting? That is the multi-trillion dollar question, and it involves not only your money, but your freedom. The prime candidate campaigning for this job appears to be the UN, now planning yet another grand “Climate Change” summit (conveniently scheduled this December on Bali), and home to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shared this year’s Nobel with Gore.

Why such strange choices for the Nobel Peace Prize? Over the years, this prize has gone to a highly varied set of winners, some of whom have genuinely sacrificed a great deal in the cause of liberty and peace. It has been a fine and valuable thing to see such winners as Andrei Sakharov, Elie Wiesel, the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi. But the roster of terrible choices dwarfs the good. That’s no surprise. In 1895, Alfred Nobel gave the job of picking the peace prize winners to Norway. So it happens that the choice each year reflects the preferences of a handful of Norwegian parliamentarians. And, as Scandinavian fads would have it, this is what we get.

A further note on the UN, for which the Nobel Peace Prize has provided such a convenient series of boosts — including, with this latest prize, three awards in the past seven years alone. I would have posted the above earlier, but it has been a busy day, including a trip to a Manhattan federal courtroom to observe the sentencing to 51 months in prison of the former head of the UN budget oversight committee, a Russian by the name of Vladimir Kuznetsov. He was convicted by jury trial this March of laundering hundreds of thousands in kickbacks obtained by another UN employee, also a Russian, Alexander Yakovlev, who worked in the procurement department. That’s just one small slice of the hijinks that go on at the UN, many of them beyond reach of U.S. jurisdiction. At the UN, there is still no accounting for exactly how the organization spends billions of your tax dollars; what kind of resources the flagship UN Development Program has actually funneled in recent years to such regimes as North Korea, Burma and Iran; or — to pick just a few of the many examples — what kind of murky agendas are pursued by an IAEA that covers for Iran, a Commission on Sustainable Development now chaired by Zimbabwe, and a Security Council now poised to seat as members the grotesquely repressive regimes of Vietnam and Libya. And yet, despite these inconvenient truths, those Peace Prizes just keep piling up.

Yasser Arafat.

Jimmy Carter.

Kofi Annan.

The United Nations.

Mohamed El Baradei.

Al Gore.

… to be continued…

Al Qaeda Through the Looking Glass

October 10th, 2007 - 4:05 am

Atop a terrific commentary, the Captain’s Journal has just posted one of the year’s most inspired headlines: “Iraq: Al Qaeda’s Quagmire.” It’s got me wondering what else we’d be hearing in that vein if Al Qaeda’s own network engaged in the kind of chronic, highly public self-flagellation that does so much to shape our own national debate — with all the accompanying public hand-wringing, quarrels, allegations, investigations, exposes and tendencies to amplify every setback into a chorus of calls for surrender.

Of course, Al Qaeda won’t do that. As a terrorist conglomerate dedicated to totalitarian goals, it is not exactly prone to such practices as cultivating a free press, public accountability and democratic debate. Al Qaeda acolytes can’t FOIA Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

Maybe some of our more creative thinkers could provide a proxy service for them? Take a cue from the Captain, flip around the perspective and start the Al Qaeda Times — chronicling what we might hear if Al Qaeda’s leaders had to account in public to their followers for every in-house rivalry, cover-up, glitch, hitch, defeat, capture, botched plan, lagging timetable and failure of leadership. Along with the Al Qaeda quagmire in Iraq, there is by now a long list of foiled Al Qaeda plots, and fumbled Al Qaeda operations. Just a few suggestions:

“Analysis from the Front: Who Lost Anbar Province?” (Part of an Al Qaeda series on “Who Is Losing Iraq,” “Who is Losing the Philippines?” etc.)

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guards: Allies or Cutthroat Rivals? — The Betrayal Ahead”

“Major Plot Fails Completely in (fill in the place: Germany/Britain/U.S./etc.): Plotters Sing While Al Qaeda Leadership Mute on Failure”

“Growing Embezzlement Scandal: Millions in Cash Unaccounted For”

“Martyrdom Operations Utterly Alienating Local Populations: Now What?”

and, perhaps a series on the Al Qaeda lifestyle:

“While Rank and File Die in Droves, Leaders Still Afraid to Emerge from Hiding, Grab Best Spots in Safe Houses and Caves”

Last week, while Burma’s military junta was busy at home beating and murdering peaceful democratic protesters, Burma’s foreign minister, U Nyan Win, a mouthpiece for the junta, took his country’s allotted turn in the lineup of speakers on the grand stage at the UN General Assembly opening in New York. He used his time in the UN spotlight to declare that “Normalcy has now returned to Myanmar.”

Revolted by this, I wrote a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, noting that it does harm when the UN offers its main stage to such spokesmen for despotic governments. My comment was that while most Americans may regard the pronouncements of assorted tyrannies at the UN as merely so much irrelevant theater, these speeches made at the annual assembly in New York tend to get beamed back into the home countries and regions as evidence that despotic regimes such as Burma’s junta enjoy importance and respect on the world stage. That undermines democratic dissent, and undercuts any messages of support for democratization that America might be trying send.

So imagine the surprise to discover that one of the radio services busy beaming U Nyan Win’s Orwellian message of “normalcy” back into Burma was none other than our very own Voice of America. In a report dated Oct. 2, devoted almost entirely to parroting the bizarre pronouncements on the UN stage of Burma’s foreign minister, VOA simply fed back to its audience his perverse statements blaming Burma’s protests on “political opportunists” — along with his claims that foreign support for the protesters was “the ugly head of neo-colonialism,” and that Burma’s security personnel “exercised utmost restraint” until finally “they had to take action” to restore “normalcy.”

The VOA story goes on in this vein for six paragraphs, before making any specific mention of the junta’s murder of protesters — and then only by way of noting that Burma’s foreign minister “made no mention of the deaths or injuries caused by the security forces during the crackdown.” And only in the final paragraph is there a fleeting mention of actions taken by the U.S. administration to try to penalize members of Burma’s military government by way of economic sanctions.

It’s hard to see how Burma’s military rulers could get more p.r. mileage out of a news story if they’d paid for it themselves. Of course, this being VOA, it’s American taxpayers who paid for it. In theory, Americans bankroll VOA so this public news service can report and explain U.S. policy to listeners abroad. In practice, here we have VOA repeating and amplifying — for consumption abroad — the gross distortions of reality with which Burma’s government is now trying to justify its record of abusing and beggaring its own people, and arresting, beating and murdering Burmese who peacefully protest.

Iran’s repressive, terrorist-sponsoring regime got similarly deferential treatment from VOA in a report filed Oct. 3, about a press conference held at the UN by Iran’s foreign minister. It leads, uncritically, with this gem:

“Tehran’s top diplomat says his country is cooperating with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency and wants a peaceful solution to the crisis. VOA’s Margaret Besheer has more from U.N. headquarters.”

Maybe it’s time to stop calling VOA the Voice of America, and start calling it the Voice of Anti-Americanism. And stop dunning American taxpayers to fund these outrages, which have been going on for years. If VOA wants to keep broadcasting stories like this, it’s way past time to yank U.S. taxpayer support, shut down the service, and if the Burmese military junta and the Iranian mullocracy want more of the same, let them pay for it themselves.