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Monthly Archives: August 2009

It has the makings of the opening sequence in an apocalyptic thriller. A ship enters the Gulf, carrying a secret, illicit cargo of munitions, bound for Iran from North Korea. The ship is seized by the United Arab Emirates, where authorities discover that instead of the oil boring equipment listed on the manifest, the cargo includes some 10 containers filled with rocket launchers, ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades and detonators.

The UAE seizes the cargo and notifies the United Nations Security Council. But for weeks, the public is told nothing about it – not by the UN, and not by Washington. The event remains cloaked in silence, the ship is sent on its way. Finally, an unnamed diplomat leaks the information to the Financial Times, and the story starts to emerge… 

Except this is no fantasy. This is the latest news out of the web connecting totalitarian, nuclear North Korea with the messianic, terrorist-sponsoring, nuclear wannabe regime of Iran. And here we go again.

The story about this North Korean arms shipment broke August 29th in the FT, and in the short time since we have been hearing slightly more — but not nearly enough. This North Korean shipment underscores huge and troubling questions about what else is going on inside the tangled web of clandestine deals with which the world’s tyrannies are busy these days — arming each other, supporting each other, and fueling their killing machines while western diplomats jaw-jaw about “engagement” and “mutual respect.”

And what a web it is. There’s a good summary of the scene on Hot Air . Both North Korea and Iran are under multiple UN sanctions, meant to stop their nuclear proliferation programs. This shipment offers a terrific example of how rogue countries try to dodge such sanctions. The ship was Australian, controlled by a French conglomerate, registered in the Bahamas, with the actual shipment, according to Reuters, “arranged by the Shanghai office of an Italian company.” So, in the middle of this clandestine arms deal is a crazy quilt of countries, businesses and legal jurisdictions, apparently involving Australia, France, the Bahamas, Italy and China — all with North Korea on one end and Iran on the other (Iranian authorities are now denying that this shipment was coming their way. These are the same folks who say their nuclear program is just for electricity). So, what else is out there right now, on the high seas, on land, or in the air, bearing false labeling and traveling the back alleys of global commerce?

The Wall Street Journal reports that “according to people familiar with the seizure,” there was “no nuclear-related material” found on board. Should we trust such unnamed sources? Who are they, and why are they unnamed? Recall the case of the secret nuclear reactor nearly completed by Syria, with North Korean help, modeled on North Korea’s Yongbyon complex. That reactor was destroyed two years ago, in September, 2007, by an Israeli air strike. But from a Bush administration intent at the time on trying to consumate a deal in which North Korea would denuclearize in exchange for loads of U.S. aid and concessions, the truth was covered up until the following April — leaving the public in the dark for more than half a year about the incriminating evidence of both North Korea’s proliferation racket, and its duplicity at the negotiating table.

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News Flash: Future Now Unpredictable

August 26th, 2009 - 9:27 am

From the United Nations, source of so many wonders, we now have word that “The past is no longer a good indicator of the future.”

So says Michel Jarraud, the French head of the UN’s World Meteorological Organization, opining about climate change at a press briefing in Geneva. Jarraud, who is part of the UN gang pushing for a multi-trillion dollar attempt to re-engineer the climate of the planet, seems to believe our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in a world of unswerving certainties about the future — possessed of all the relevant facts and armed with collated crop statistics. Today’s uncertainty about the future, he said, “Is something completely new — to make decisions not on facts or statistics about the past, but on the probabilities for the future.”

Really? Given the ever-changing nature of life itself, along with the climate and a great many other factors that interact their way into the future, one might suspect the human race has always kept in mind some sort of running tab of probabilities. It’s called evolution and adaptation. In places where individuals have had the freedom to invent, experiment and profit in the marketplace from their insights, mankind has racked up a spectacular record of dealing with these probabilities – creating out of raw wilderness an environment in which Michel Jarraud can sit in air-conditioned comfort, well-housed, richly fed and sounding off to the international media.

But what’s Jarraud’s answer to all this uncertainty he now predicts? You guessed it — he wants the UN to plan the future for you. To this end, in the approach to the grand climate jamboree scheduled for Copenhagen this December, the UN is convening yet another in its endless series of conferences, this one to be held next week in Geneva and attended by what Reuters describes as “About 1,500 policy-makers, researchers and corporate leaders.” (For these UN hunter-gatherers, there is of course endless justification for the jet fuel, carbon emissions and meat entrees they would like to ration to the rest of us).

I’m guessing that what Jarraud was trying to say, in his odd locutions about past and future, is that he thinks there has been a shift in the weights one should assign to various factors and probabilities. Fair enough. But here’s one prediction I’m willing to hazard, based on the past: In the long record of mankind peering into sheep entrails and sniffing the wind to try to divine the future, it would be hard to find a process more self-serving, politicized and potentially, abusively expensive for mankind than what the UN will try to deliver in months ahead, in the name of its bureaucratic absolutisms on “climate change.”

Libyan Grotesqueries

August 20th, 2009 - 10:43 pm

In the current western mood of coddling terrorists and pandering to tyrants, the perversions by now appear endless. On “compassionate grounds,” Scotland has just allowed the terminally ill Libyan terrorist, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, to return to Libya.  Convicted of murder in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. Scotland, al-Megrahi was flown home Thursday to a hero’s welcome, transported by private jet, and met by Saif Gaddafi, son of Muammar Gaddafi — who along with his international terror sprees in years past has tyrannized Libya for 40 years.

If you’d like to learn more about the freed terrorist, al-Megrahi, and why Gaddafi might be so pleased to have him back, there’s an illuminating article on Forbes.com, written just before al-Megrahi’s release: “Don’t Let The Lockerbie Bomber Go Free.”

The author, Mohamed Eljahmi, had an older brother, Fathi Eljahmi, who was Libya’s most prominent democratic dissident. I say “was,” because after five solid years of imprisonment by Gaddafi, Fathi Eljahmi died this past April. There was no compassion shown by Gaddafi of any kind. Isolated much of the time, held in filthy conditions, incarcerated for a long stretch in a Libyan “psychiatric” facility, Fathi Eljhami was deprived of adequate medical care, and blocked from any direct communication with the outside world. He deserved a hero’s salute from both the democratic world and his fellow Libyans, but Gaddafi saw to it that from the day Eljahmi was arrested in 2004 until the day he died in April, 2009, he was never seen or heard in public again.

Gaddafi, however, has been living it up as the “rehabilitated” ruler of Libya. And next month he is expected to turn up at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where on the opening day of the debate, Sept. 23, he is currently listed as the next speaker in line after President Barack Obama. At the same UN gathering, Gaddafi will have even more to celebrate — Libya, in the person of one of Gaddafi’s former foreign ministers, Ali Treki, will take over the 2009-2010 presidency of the UN General Assembly. What’s next for Gaddafi and his henchmen? The Nobel Prize?

From Venezuela to Russia, and Iran, With Love

August 19th, 2009 - 9:22 pm

Websurfing to Caracas…

It happens to all of us – with reports just out that American life expectancy has hit an all-time high, I finally felt I had to go look at the titanic health care bill for myself. You go to the THOMAS web site, punch in H.R. 3200, and there it is — all 1,017 gory unintelligible pages of the nationalized, centrally planned future that President Obama and his chief comrades in Congress wish for us all (if not for themselves).

I began browsing this thing, and found it reminded me in so many ways of the products of the old Soviet Gosplan that in a fit of nostalgia I turned to Russia’s Itar-Tass wire. There one finds all sorts of odd items, including the news that while President Obama is tying America in knots over health care, fishy emails, and whatnot, Venezuelans have been having much more fun. Venezuela recently concluded a “Week of South Ossetia,” – celebrating solidarity with the Georgian breakaway republic that became the pretext for the Russian invasion of Georgia last year.

Anthems were played, Russian “politologists and diplomats” took part with Latin American “leaders,” and America was slammed by all. It seems that Obama’s extended hand, and even his handshake, have not done much to endear him to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who recently described Obama as “lost in the Andromeda” galaxy.

How does this connect? The real threat to American health does not reside within our current health care system. Obama — no kidding — would do better to spend time worrying about things like South Ossetia week in Venezuela, or Hugo Chavez’s impending visit to Iran.

Questions about nepotism are turning up again at the United Nations, and they go all the way to the top.  

This tale involves Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s youngest daughter, Ban Hyun Hee, and her husband, Siddarth Chatterjee. When Ban took over the UN’s top job from Kofi Annan in January, 2007, both Hyun Hee and Siddarth Chatterjee were working for UNICEF out of Nairobi. Some UN observers, myself included (“Uh-Oh, Shades of Kojo“), raised concerns about this at the time — especially when Ban’s office refused to disclose details about the terms of his daughter’s and son-in-law’s UN employment. Given the scandals that beset Kofi Annan over the UN-related dealings of his son, Kojo Annan (the Oil-for-Food Cotecna inspections contract; the Mystery Mercedes …), it would have been prudent for Ban Ki-Moon and his family to make a huge effort to avoid even the appearance of any possibility of nepotism.

But here we go again. Thanks to Matthew Russell Lee of the Inner City Press, we now learn that during Ban’s tenure, his son-in-law, Siddarth Chatterjee, has been rising rapidly at the UN, with almost no details or explanation disclosed. From UNICEF in Nairobi, Chatterjee moved on to become chief of staff to Ban’s Special Representative for Iraq. From there, Chatterjee recently beat out more than 120 applicants for a high-level UN job in Copenhagen, as the regional director for Europe and the Middle East of the UN Office for Project Services, or UNOPS. (UNOPS is a UN “entity” which provides technical and administrative support to UN projects worldwide — $1.5 billion worth in 2007 alone).

Ban’s daughter, thanks to a UNICEF contract, has been able to join her husband in Copenhagen, though as reporter Matthew Russell Lee notes,  ”Throughout the UN system, Inner City Press has met spouses who are unable to obtain jobs in the same city, country or even continent.”

What qualified Chatterjee for the promotions? What employment rank does he now hold? How much is he getting paid? How did Ban’s daughter get lucky enough to land a UN slot alongside her husband in Copenhagen? Lee has been asking questions, and reports that neither UNOPS nor Ban’s office has been giving answers. Instead, Lee has had to eke out details from internal UN emails leaked to him by whistleblowers who ask for anonymity, due to fear of retaliation (a well-founded fear, after Ban threw UN Development Program whistleblower Tony Shkurtaj to the dogs during the UNDP’s 2007-2008 North Korea Cash-for-Kim scandal).

You can read the leaked emails about Ban’s son-in-law, and Lee’s discussion of the scene, in Inner City’s August 14 story: “UN’s Ban Expects Nepotism Report Aug 18, As His Daughter’s and Son in Law’s Promotion Questioned.”�

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Big Bucks for the Ex-Prisoners of Pyongyang?

August 10th, 2009 - 2:36 pm

Now that Al Gore’s two jailed employees have been retrieved by Bill Clinton from North Korea, there’s talk of a seven-figure book deal for their story, with the U.K’s Daily Mail speculating about a movie deal to follow. It would be interesting to hear in full the tale of Laura Ling and Euna Lee. But from the little we have heard so far, it seems at least one of them  – Laura Ling —  did deliberately cross into North Korea.

This was folly of enormous magnitude. That act has already cost Americans, by way of winning for Kim Jong Il the propaganda coup of snapping his fingers and having a former U.S. president jet in for an audience with Kim in Pyongyang. Whether additional ransom or concessions to Kim were involved, we wait to find out — but it would come as no surprise. Did Ling and Lee, both described as journalists, not notice that the border in the area where they were traveling is edged every few hundred yards with sentry huts, manned by armed North Korean guards?

While no one deserves the terror of being subjected to North Korea’s version of “justice,” there is something that feels simply wrong about the prospect that the two women, now safely home, stand to make a killing out of their story. In the end, they got out; it is less clear whether some of their contacts in China were so lucky. Veteran North Korea-watcher Joshua Stanton notes on his terrifically informative blog, One Free Korea , that among activists helping North Korean refugees, there’s big concern that materials Ling and Lee had on them when they were captured might have led to North Korean refugees being nabbed in China and sent back to North Korea. These folks cannot expect the relatively soft handling which Kim apparently reserved for his American prisoners; nor can they expect Bill Clinton to race back over in his private jet and airlift them out to sell their book and movie rights.

And whatever the details, the basic arithmetic here is that anything which helps fortify the Kim Jong Il regime is bad news inside the borders of North Korea — where Kim’s gulag carries on, with its starvation rations and murderous sentences of hard labor.

In another illuminating post, put up April 7th, Stanton ran through a list of what we might reasonably expect from Ling and Lee, now that they are home. This included the advice:

“If you did cross the border voluntarily, mortgage your homes now and start writing checks to repay the taxpayers for whatever your ransom cost us.”  

That sounds reasonable. Though in light of the talk now circulating about a payola of book and movie deals, I have another suggestion. It would be entirely fitting for Laura Ling and Euna Lee to donate whatever money they make from their story to some of the private charitable organizations whose staff — often at considerable sacrifice — dedicate themselves to genuinely helping the North Korean refugees whom these two women set out to write about.

Bill Clinton in Pyongyang

August 4th, 2009 - 1:41 am

UPDATE: “Clinton Delivers” is the headline on the Drudge Report, with breaking news that in response to Bill Clinton’s visit to Pyongyang, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il has pardoned the two jailed American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee. They are expected to be home shortly, and it will be a welcome relief when they are free of North Korea.

But the huge and disturbing question is, what else has Bill Clinton delivered? And to whom? The White House is calling Bill’s trip a “private mission,” but there are reports that Bill was met at the Pyongyang airport by North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator,  Kim Kye Gwan – a curious choice of host if Clinton went only to discuss the two hostage journalists. Likewise, just how private is it when Clinton had a long talk with Kim Jong Il over a dinner hosted by North Korea’s National Defense Commission.

Kim Kye Gwan and Kim Jong Il led the Bush administration on a merry dance via the Six-Party Talks of recent years, in which North Korea raked in concessions and aid from the U.S. — and cheated, with the resulting collapse of the deal late last year. The same regime did the same to Bill Clinton when he was president in the 1990s — talk, sign, collect, and cheat. North Korea’s totalitarian regime is not a system in which morality, decency or human kindness figure as motivating factors. Kim Jong Il got something from the U.S. for those journalists — the question is, did he simply get the already huge concession of a visit from a former U.S. president and husband of Obama’s secretary of state? Or did Bill Clinton deliver a lot more to Kim, which we have yet to hear about?

More on the Pyongyang calculus below, as posted just after Clinton arrived in Pyongyang, but before the report that “Clinton Delivers”:

Snatch two American journalists, get yourself a visit from an American ex-president — with added payolas likely to follow.

That’s the conclusion the strategists of North Korea’s Kim Jong Il regime might reasonably draw, as Bill Clinton arrives in Pyongyang to navigate the release of the two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were nabbed by North Korea, accused of trespassing on its turf and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. I use the word “navigate” rather than “negotiate” for whatever Clinton is about to do in North Korea, because his arrival there — as ex-president and husband of President Obama’s secretary of state — is, in itself, already a U.S. concession to North Korea; a deal already struck, with more U.S. concessions likely to follow).

There’s every reason for North Korea to be pleased with this arrangement. The last American ex-president to tread the corridors of Pyongyang was Jimmy Carter, who went to North Korea in 1994, while Bill Clinton was president. Out of that visit, 15 years ago, came the Agreed Framework nuclear freeze deal, in which North Korea was promised two modern nuclear reactors and a flow of aid, and got to store in-country its spent nuclear fuel (which later came in handy when Kim decided to reprocess it for nuclear bombs). On Clinton’s watch, construction began on the reactors, the aid flowed, Madeleine Albright dropped by in 2000 in a propaganda coup for Kim — and North Korea cheated on the deal.

The net effect was to help Kim Jong Il consolidate power and sustain his regime. Kim enhanced his missile arsenal, expanded his proliferation networks, starved an estimated million or so of his countrymen to death, and conducted nuclear and long-range missiles tests in 2006 and this spring.

Now Bill Clinton has come calling on Pyongyang. One can feel enormous sympathy for the two journalists whose release he’s gone to obtain. It would be a very good thing to see them come home. But this is a terrible way to handle it, and the precedent now being set is monstrous.

What will be the real costs of this high-profile brand of ransom payment? It’s not only the tyrant regime of Pyongyang that’s noting the rewards of hostage politics –  which is becoming hard to distinguish from Obama’s broad efforts in any event to engage with the world’s most ruthless and manipulative tyrannies. Iran has just picked up three Americans accused by Iranian authorities of straying over the border from Iraq. Which ex-president should Iran now expect to come calling? Or, given the current calculus of hostage politics, and appeasement whatever the cost, should we expect that Obama will do it himself?

Mary Robinson’s Medal for Bush Bashing?

August 2nd, 2009 - 10:25 pm

Another item for the Obama Outrage Overload file:

Among the 16 winners picked by President Obama this year for the high honor of receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom is a very strange choice indeed:  A former president of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.

You can read plenty about Robinson’s record in an article written in 2002 by the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin, “Mary Robinson, War Criminal?” There’s plenty of appalling detail, but the nature of the problem is exemplified by Mary Robinson’s role as secretary-general of the UN’s infamous 2001 Durban conference. That gathering was supposed to focus on fighting racism, but instead ended up as such as jamboree of anti-semitism that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell ordered the U.S. delegation to walk out.

So why on earth would Obama tap Mary Robinson for the Medal of Freedom? There’s an interesting article on the American Thinker, in which Ed Lasky speculates that the suggestion might have come from one of Obama’s foreign policy gurus, Samantha Power.  I have no idea whether that’s correct, or where Obama got the idea from. But Lasky in his article mentions that Power wrote a book about Robinson’s successor as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and in researching the book, might have come across Robinson.

That made me curious enough to flip open Power’s 2008 book, “Chasing the Flame,” (a work of strange infatuations in its own right) and check the index. It’s not clear from the book whether Power knows Robinson (though they have both moved for years in circles that intersect). But Power certainly does mention her. On page 349, Robinson is described as having been “outspoken in her criticisms of the Bush administration’s human rights abuses in the wake of 9/11.” Robinson is further described as having criticized the U.S. — the UN’s biggest single donor — for not giving a bigger percentage of its GNP for foreign aid.

Writes Power, “Unsurprisingly, the United States refused to support her bid for a second four-year term as high commissioner. Still she was unrepentant.” Power quotes Robinson’s retort to the U.S.: “Holding back criticism for whatever political reasons,” said Robinson, “takes away the legitimacy of the agenda and the cause.”

Well, fast forward to 2009, and we now find Washington making amends to Mary Robinson for snubbing her Durban-style ”agenda” and her America-trashing “cause.” Obama will confer the Medal of Freedom upon her in an official ceremony on August 12th  . Who’s next? Hugo Chavez?