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Monthly Archives: March 2009

Socialist Fairyland

March 31st, 2009 - 1:03 am

With the White House promising cradle-to-grave state care, pushing a mandatory “voluntary” youth corps, and acting as a major player in deciding everything from Wall Street bonuses to who runs General Motors, here’s a line that caught my eye among news reports of the past week:

“The towns and countryside are being converted into a socialist fairyland and paradise good to live in.”

Who said that?

a) President Obama

b) Speaker Nancy Pelosi

c) NPR

d) North Korea’s KCNA (Korean Central News Agency)

Hint: It’s not a trick question. The answer is (I hope) obvious. But as a piece of North Korean propaganda, it does have this intriguing feature: Had it come from Obama, Pelosi or NPR, it would probably qualify as the most honest articulation yet of the hope-and-change fantasies that now animate Washington.

Hat tip to radio host John Batchelor, one of the most talented narrators of our times, who has just posted on his Web site, with brief background text, a video you have absolutely got to see:

 John Galt Beginnings: Daniel Hannan MEP South East England. This is the first time I’ve seen Hannan in action. Question is, how do we get Hannan over here to America, so we can start voting for him too?

I wish I were making this up — but no such luck. The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration has renamed the Global War on Terror. Apparently it is no longer a war, nor is terror worth mentioning. It is now the ”Overseas Contingency Operation.”

Or, I suppose, if you want something a little snappier, the OCO.

If we could only persuade America’s enemies to use language like that, we’d win. Overcome with polysyllabic confusion, they’d spend most of their time wondering who they are fighting, or why.

As it is, my heart goes out to the brave American men and women fighting on the front lines of a very real war, who are now risking their lives not in the Global War on Terror, or World War IV, but in the Overseas Contingency Operation. Is that what Obama will still be calling it after the next attack on America’s shores?

Over at Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer does a neat summing up:

“And so now we are engaged in a great Overseas Contingency Operation, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. And be assured: if the Overseas Contingency Operatives succeed in pulling off another Contingency Operation on American soil on the scale of 9/11, or more than one, we will indeed be sorely tested — and utterly unprepared to meet the multifaceted cultural, military, political, and spiritual challenge the enemy presents.”

It’s been a problem for years now, finding the right name for this war we are in — the real challenge being to name not just the tactic of terror, but to name and define those now wielding it in service of the spread of totalitarian systems, ideas and turf. Islamists, Islamo-fascism, Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, North Korea, and affiliates … Like it or not, there is a global contest going on to shape the still-evolving New World Order, and the democratic wave of the past generation is in great jeopardy. America has real enemies out there, building real missiles and bombs, with real intent to bully, extort and infiltrate; real potential to kill, and a real record of killing. America, by virtue of its freedoms, its values – and the affront they pose to the rulers ensconced in such regimes — is a target.

Reducing the name of this war to “Overseas Contingency Operation” might fascinate students of Orwell and Kafka. But it’s an alarming move in the wrong direction, an attempt to bury realities in bureaucratic blather. It’s yet more of the “engagement” attempt, in which President Obama sits in a chair and wishes Happy New Year by webcast to Iran’s “leaders.” They respond by taking a break from their nuclear bomb program to rally a mob chanting “Overseas Contingency Operation Death to America.”

Wordsmiths, wherever you are, you’re needed now more than ever. This country needs an honest name for this war — a name that will endure, and speak to the imagination and soul of an America which, notwithstanding its own Beltway memos, is still worth fighting for.

Obama’s “Reset” Video for Iran

March 20th, 2009 - 1:22 am

Scarcely did we have time to absorb the full import of Barack Obama becoming — in the portentous phrase that has been all over the news — “the first sitting president to appear on the Jay Leno show.” And now here he is in a White House video wishing happy new year to “the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Maybe President Obama should have put the two together, and wished Iran happy new year, or Nowruz, from the set of the Jay Leno show instead of the White House. At least that might have left the mullahs wondering if this was just some oddball American attempt at humor.

As it is, Obama has just presented himself as the personification of Hillary’s toy “Reset” button, given to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier this month. That has almost certainly provided the Russians with a few chuckles — and not just because of the mistranslation that went with it.

Seriously, as foreign policy, Obama’s latest is not only nuts, but dangerous. Obama speaks as if he were campaigning in Peoria. The cadences are those of the Hope-and-Change stump: “The promise of a new day, the promise of opportunity for our children, security for our families, progress for our communities, and peace between nations…shared hopes… common dreams.”

Had Obama limited his salutation to the people of Iran, fair enough. But he blew right past them when he also addressed “the leaders” — who are apparently to be included in the new Iranian happy land he envisions. How does that compute? The folks ruling Iran are not exactly leaders. They are messianic and ruthless rulers. They are subscribers to a totalitarian system that leads the world in juvenile executions. They train and support terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which teach children to aspire to the “opportunity” to become suicide bombers. Their idea of peace and community progress does not extend to a world in which anyone disagrees with their edicts.

The leaders of Iran punish dissent among their people with methods heavy on imprisonment, torture and death. On Wednesday, a day before Obama launched his Nowruz video, a 29-year-old Iranian blogger reportedly died in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. His name was Omid Mirsayafi, and the BBC reports that he was jailed for the act of “insulting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other clerics.”

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Million Dollar Bonu$e$ at Fannie Mae

March 18th, 2009 - 8:05 pm

Say it ain’t so. But looks like it is. Here we are, clutching our devastated 401Ks, howling for scalps at AIG, dizzy with the zeroes of the $3.55 trillion budget and the $797 billion “stimulus” and the $700 billion TARP, and the election of a President whose answer to all ills is to frag bomb the capitalist system, spend us into hock unto the umpteenth generation, blow out our currency in the process, and usher us into an era in which ACORN helps with the census and government doles out the ensuing rations.

And, over at the outfit that primed the sub-prime fuse for this chain reaction, Fannie Mae, the top executives are now going to rake in six or seven-figure bonuses over the next year — in some cases double what they got last year. Here’s the AP reporting on Fannie Mae plans bonuses of $1M for execs.

OK, I know, these are not the same executives as the ones who did so much to set us up for this free-fall. There has been plenty of debate over what to do about Fannie Mae and its companion incubus, Freddie Mac. There is a rational argument to be made for trying to retain employees who know where the rest rooms are, inside the palatial complex of Fannie Mae’s well-manicured head office. And there is a long and complex discussion to be had, or perhaps a lot more head-scratching to be done, at a few zillion more congressional conferences at private spas, and White House fiestas serving wagyu steak.

But does anyone else get that feeling that enough’s enough?

I have an anecdote about the former CEO of Fannie Mae, Franklin Raines. I’ve lost track over the past few years of how much, net, he raked in … between the $90 million in bonuses, the fraction repaid over the 2004 accounting scandal , the coming and going at Fannie Mae as the insane cost of this government experiment in housing promotion turned from a blip on the public radar into a nuclear cloud.

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Ron Silver – Keeping Faith

March 15th, 2009 - 10:19 pm

Roger Simon says it best, in his moving tribute to his friend, Ron Silver — who died this weekend after a long fight with cancer.

There’s a note I feel compelled to add, seconding what Roger has to say about Ron’s courage.

There were only a few occasions on which I met Ron. They all had to do with his work on a movie he made in 2005 about the UN, Broken Promises: The United Nations at 60.  Ron was first and foremost an artist, an actor. As such, he might have settled for the easy, self-serving pose of most celebrities who take an interest in the UN and go on to become uncritical promoters of its programs and projects, however flawed. Ron thought deeper than that. He did serious homework, and asked real questions — about genocide in Rwanda and Srebenica, about the U.N.’s failures to uphold human rights, or live up to the high ideals in its charter. He concluded that in the interest of humanity, what the UN desperately needed was not another helping of celebrity advertising, but real reform.  

So, Ron made a movie about it, narrating Broken Promises, and serving along with David Bossie as executive producer. I met him while he was filming in New York. After a formal interview in midtown, we took a walk together to his next appointment, several blocks away. As we walked, he kept right on asking questions — What had gone so wrong at the UN? What kind of change was most urgently needed? He wasn’t interested in  Hollywood do-good fluff. He was interested in the truth. Instead of trying to buff up the “image”of the institution, he was trying to protect the principles and people the UN was meant to serve.

That took a rare mix of intellect and courage. Ron Silver played many roles in shows that were more widely watched. My window on Ron is that he didn’t have to make Broken Promises, but he chose to — keeping faith with his own true depth of character.

Deadbeats of the World, Unite!

March 12th, 2009 - 11:23 pm

It speaks volumes about the mindset of UN top management that Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has just delivered himself of his most articulate statement since he took office — and the gist of it was to insult America, the UN’s biggest sugar-daddy, as a “deadbeat.”

Ban was in Washington, following up a mutual back-patting session with President Obama by complaining to members of Congress that the U.S. is behind on its dues. Bear in mind that the assessed dues paid by the U.S., which come to 22% of Ban’s record-breaking core budget, are the biggest share paid by any of the UN’s 192 member states — and monumentally more than most. Bear in mind that those dues are just a small fraction of the billions upon billions that the U.S. actually forks over every year to the UN in the form of additional funds — including voluntary contributions, support for UN agencies, special programs, donations to emergency appeals, peacekeeping and whatnot. Bear in mind that while American taxpayers have been tightening their belts, the UN has been demanding and spending their money at record-breaking rates.

Plus, to keep Ban comfortable as he formulates his complaints, America provides the frill of lavish living quarters in midtown Manhattan for the tax-exempt Ban Ki-Moon himself. Then there’s the landmark UN headquarters now undergoing an extravagant $2 billion renovation for which America taxpayers are likely to foot most of the bill (granted, that doesn’t do much for the cause of world poverty, but it certainly does enhance the ample comforts of the UN bureaucracy — Ban included — in New York).

But OK, that’s the entitlement mentality for you. The real problem is how the UN handles — or mishandles — the torrent of American money it already enjoys every year. There is no transparency, there is almost no accountability. For hours of fun, check out Ban Ki-Moon’s vaunted “public disclosure” initiative — in which top UN officials are invited to disclose their own finances to the public. Even the most forthcoming are too generic to tell you much. But the most entertaining cases are those of UN officials whose “disclosure” consists of ticking a box which says they are exercising their option not to disclose anything except their refusal to disclose. For instance, the deputy head of UNICEF, Omar Abdi; or Ban’s special adviser (Kofi Annan’s former chief of staff, who shredded years worth of executive suite documents during the Oil-for-Food investigations) Iqbal Riza

If you actually try to figure out the extent of the UN’s system-wide budget, you will quickly discover that in the maze of inter-agency fees, contributions, opaque programs, awol inventories, bizarre procurement arrangements, haze of consultancy contracts, plethora of per diems, tardy and vague public audits, erratic and secret internal audits, and extra-budgetary add-ons, doo-dads, whistles and peace bells, there is for all practical purposes no way to do it. The best estimate we’ve had in recent years was a statement from Kofi Annan in 2006 that the system-wide budget came to about $20 billion. America pays the biggest share — roughly one-quarter of all that dosh.

What does the UN deliver in return?

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen put out a press release on Ban’s deadbeat remark, which pretty well sums up the scene. Excerpts here:

“Last year, American taxpayers ponied up nearly $5 billion for the UN system. The U.S. is by far the world’s largest donor to the UN. The U.S. provides other assistance for peacekeeping operations. The U.S. responds to emergency appeals. We are always on deck.

 ”Yet, the head of the UN comes to Congress and scolds us for not doing enough? He demands yet more money from us while making little progress in cleaning up the badly-broken UN?

 ”The UN’s ineffectiveness is not from a lack of cash, but the result of a corrupt system which wastes money and apologizes for dictatorships.

 ”The UN has been hijacked by a rogues’ gallery that uses our funds to undermine peace and security. Dictatorships use the Human Rights Council and Durban 2 conference process to restrict universal freedoms and protect extremists. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) aids violent Islamists and partners with money-laundering banks under U.S. sanctions or under U.S. investigation for financing Islamist militants. The UN Development Program (UNDP) pays the legal fees of its corrupt officials but refuses to protect whistleblowers.

 ”While Iran, Syria, and North Korea endanger the entire world, the UN is pre-occupied with condemning democratic states like the U.S. and Israel.”

To this, we might add the news item that in the rigged “election” process for choosing the president of the UN General Assembly, it looks like a done deal that the winner for 2009-2010 will be Libya (I’m not kidding … more in my Forbes.com column this week on “The U.N.’s Year of Libya“). On this, Ban has uttered not a word of dismay.

There’s a lot of scope here for enhancing chances of world peace and progress simply by cutting off money for the UN. Deadbeats of the world, unite!

We’re less than two months into the Obama administration, and already there’s more than enough grist for one of those scavenger-hunt feature stories, or maybe an entire coffee-table book, on ”Where are they now?” You know the genre — the lists of icons, props, characters, all past their 15 minute shelf-life in the headlines and consigned to the oblivion of last week’s news cycle, or even the ancient history of last year… “We are the change we seek” (haven’t heard that lately); the fake stage columns at the Denver convention; Tom Daschle, Rev. Wright, Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers (well, actually, in his own special way, Ayers keeps turning up…and so does Wright).

The latest candidates for this Obama scrapbook are two inanimate objects – recent tokens of diplomacy-made-new (both of them swiftly disappeared from public view). They are President Obama’s offering to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown of a boxed DVD set of 25 “classic American movies,” and Hillary’s gift of a mistranslated “Reset” button for Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

We’ve all read about the awkward encounters in which these items were with handed over. But where are they now? What did Gordon Brown do with the Obama presidential-gift DVD set? (The U.K.’s Daily Mail has the full list of the movies  ). Is he tucked up with the Chancellor of the Exchequer at 10 Downing Street for a marathon and timely viewing of Vertigo, Sunset Boulevard and Star Wars: Episode IV?” Did he quietly donate the DVDs to Oxfam? Offer them to the collection at the Tower of London? Or is he maybe using them — as I once used a copy of Das Kapital — to prop open a malfunctioning window? If anyone knows, it ought to be the Daily Mail, which reports only that “his reaction to the box set is unknown.”

As for Hillary’s gift to Lavrov of a toy Reset button, with its gaffe of a label and its unfortunate resemblance to a detonator – once the FSB gets done checking this item for implanted eavesdropping devices, what will Lavrov do with it? Cherish it on his desk as a sample of American diplomatic juvenilia? Install it among the treasures of the Kremlin? Give it to the Spetznaz to play with?

Who knows? But I have an vision of that Reset button resonating somewhere down the line, like ”Rosebud”  in that vast warehouse of debris and disillusion at the end of Citizen Kane. It’s a chilling vision. If you don’t remember that final scene in the movie, ask Gordon Brown. It’s in his boxed set.

There are so many ways the government is right now spending our money that it all starts to blur. But among the billions and trillions, let’s zoom in for a moment on the $900 million that Hillary Clinton pledged this past Monday in fresh aid to the Palestinians. That includes $300 million meant to spruce up Gaza after Israel’s recent three-week battle to shut down the rocket-launching habits of Hamas, the Iranian-backed terrorist group that controls Gaza.

Clinton has assured us that ”safeguards”have been negotiated to ensure that none of this $300,000,000 in American tax money for Gaza will end up bankrolling terrorists. That would be a neat trick no matter how you figure it, since the idea is to repair the turf controlled by Hamas. It’s as if the U.S. government were to pick up the tab for renovating Osama bin Laden’s family cave and restocking the larder, while assuring us that terrorists won’t benefit from the process.

But the sleight of hand doesn’t end there. A State Department spokesman says that some of the U.S. aid to Gaza will flow through the UN. The lead UN agency in Gaza is UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

How careful is UNRWA to avoid dealings with terrorists?

Well, along with whatever else you might have heard about UNRWA, its web site has been featuring a fascinating display this week on its home page — still there as I write this – showing a photo of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, shafts of sunlight illuminating his presence, standing in an UNRWA warehouse in Gaza. Next to Ban’s photo is his message, appealing for money for Gaza. Beneath Ban’s photo is a short list of banks, account numbers helpfully included, through which this money can be sent.

That list includes the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria, headquartered in Damascus. This is an intriguing bank for UNRWA to choose — because it is under sanctions by the U.S. Treasury, watch-listed since 2004 as an institution of ”primary money laundering concern,” posing “a significant risk of being used to further the Syrian Government’s support for international terrorist groups.” Such as Hamas.

More on this in my column this week for Forbes.com , Can We Give to Gaza Without Giving to Hamas – and a brief excerpt here:

UNRWA’s choice of this bank is all the more curious in light of the lifestyle choices of a number of Hamas leaders, such as Khaled Meshal, who are based not in Gaza, but work “in exile” in Damascus. According to a Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder released in 2006, Meshal has served Hamas from Damascus as head of the terrorist group’s politburo, and as chief strategist and fundraiser. In 2006 he was alleged by Israeli then-Vice Premier Shimon Peres to have ordered the kidnapping into Gaza of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has not been released.

We should assume, of course, that there is a perfectly innocent explanation for why UNRWA — which also invites donations via HSBC in Jordan and the Gaza office of Arab Bank  – feels the need to arrange a banking conduit, via a bank under U.S. sanctions, to Gaza from Syria. But what is that explanation? And while we’re at it, who are the donors using this account?

As it is, we have the Secretary-General of the UN shilling for donations to UNRWA in Gaza via a Syrian bank under U.S. sanctions for ties to terrorists. And we have the U.S. State Department pledging $300 million for Gaza, some of which will flow through UNRWA, while State assures us that U.S. tax dollars will not be used to bankroll terrorists. Presumably Hillary Clinton is requiring some sort of meticulous book-keeping that will keep all these things straight as the money pours from these many sources into the Gaza pot. But since this is all supposed to be about feeding children and rebuilding homes, what’s to hide? Mr. Ban, and Mrs. Clinton, could we please see the UNRWA banking records – ALL the banking records – and the expense accounts?

The good news is that President Obama’s administration has decided not to “engage” in the UN’s anti-Semitic, anti-free speech, anti-democratic Durban II conference, scheduled for April 20-24 in Geneva.

A U.S. delegation went to Geneva two weeks ago to check out the preparations for this pow-wow. They consulted with more than 30 delegations, plus the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and “other interested parties” — and this past Friday the State Department put out a press release saying the conference’s “draft outcome document” (at the UN, conference outcomes tend to be a done deal before the conference begins) “has gone from bad to worse,” and as it now stands is “not salvageable.” The U.S. will not engage in any more negotiations over this document, “nor will we participate in a conference based on this text.”

Yes, here’s a chance to applaud Obama for taking a step in the right direction. In the UN arena, such good news is rare enough that I’m tempted to leave it there. For a moment, let’s celebrate! — Obama has declined to dignify Durban II, the UN’s racist conference on “racism,” with a U.S. presence. When he sent that delegation last month to clock in on the preparations, I was convinced the U.S. would decide to attend the mothership conference itself. I’m delighted to have been wrong.

But let’s also beware the danger here of one step forward, two steps back. Anne Bayefksy of www.eyeontheun.org , who has been warning about the poisonous nature of Durban II for almost two years now, has an article at Forbes.com charging the Obama administration with double-dealing on Durban II. Bayefsky notes that while announcing the decision to skip Durban II, the State Department did not declare an outright boycott, or invite others to follow suit. Instead, State tried to defuse the issue by leaving the door ever so slightly ajar. The U.S. might still attend, on the wildly unlikely condition that the conference organizers clean up their act.

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