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Monthly Archives: October 2010

Tiananmen Travesty – With UN Credentials

October 30th, 2010 - 12:27 am

However unsavory, it might seem nothing special for an official from China to hand out a “World Harmony Award” to a former Chinese defense minister, General Chi Haotian — despite Chi’s record as operational commander of the Chinese military forces which on June 4, 1989 used gunfire and armored personnel carriers to crush China’s Tiananmen Square democratic uprising. For the Chinese regime, which continues to brutalize democratic dissidents and gloss over the horrors of 1989, handing out such a perverse award would qualify as business as usual.

Except the Chinese official who presented this “Harmony” award to Chi is, at least in theory, not working for the People’s Republic of China. Sha Zukang is a high-ranking official at the United Nations, where he serves as Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. That’s a senior post in which Sha is presumed to act and speak not for China, but for the UN — as he goes about duties which include spending plenty of American tax dollars contributed via Washington to the UN budget. Sha’s responsiblities include overseeing follow-ups to major UN conferences and summits, and a whole range of UN activities advertised as promoting development and — no, I’m not kidding — good governance.

Apparently Sha’s UN job was no bar to his presenting an award to China’s Chi Haotian. China’s state-owned and run international broadcasting service, China Radio International, brings us the scoop — complete with a photo of Chi, clutching the award trophy (“a crystal peace dove, symbolizing the U.N.’s core spirit of ‘harmony and peace’ “), next to a smiling Sha Zukang.

Sha presented the award on behalf of an outfit called the World Harmony Foundation, or WHF, which has a web site listing a head office in midtown Manhattan, near the UN’s headquarters; and one additional “representative office” in Zhejiang, China. The WHF, according to its web site, is dedicated to promoting the ideals and principles of the UN charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The WHF also boasts of having received accreditation and consultative status to the UN Environment Program’s Governing Council in 2005. The WHF web site includes a section on “Harmony Bells for Peace,” with the information that the WHF designed the UN Harmony Bell — their web page on harmony bells includes a photo of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan ringing the bell in 2005.

All this World Harmony/UN/China business reminded me so much of the style of Annan’s former close adviser, climate “godfather” of the Kyoto Treaty, Maurice Strong (resident in China since 2005, when he left the UN at the height of the Oil-for-Food scandal) that I took a sideways glance for a connection, googling “World Harmony Foundation” together with “Maurice Strong.” Up popped this account, from another foundation, the Global Restoration and Eco-Development Foundation (or GERDF), which at least at some point in recent years had the exact same Manhattan address as the World Harmony Foundation lists today.  The GERDF web site describes Maurice Strong contributing a motto for that Harmony Bell of which the World Harmony Foundation is so proud: “Together we ring the Harmony Bell.”

Yes, and together Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang of the UN, and the World Harmony Foundation (with its UN connections), with their professed dedication to the UN charter, have just helped Chi Haotian, of Tiananmen infamy, celebrate … what was it? Chi’s contribution to world harmony? (For that matter, what, exactly, is this outfit called the World Harmony Foundation? The WHF web site has a section on “Our Sponsors,” which includes zero information — apart from a note that the page is being “updated”).

If the government of the People’s Republic of China wishes to confer awards in-house on its former military commanders, there may be little the democracies of the world can do. But when a high-ranking UN official, trailing UN credentials, steps in to present such an award, surely it’s time for the host and chief funder of the UN — the U.S. — to protest.

There is a bigger web here than bears exploring in a weekend blog post. But just to follow one more thread: Back in 1996, former President Bill Clinton, in his efforts to cozy up to Beijing, made the abysmal decision not just to entertain a visit by Chi Haotian to the U.S., but to welcome him with full military honors — including a 19-gun salute, a tour of several military bases and a nuclear laboratory, and a personal meeting (congressional protest at the time linked here). For China’s democratic dissidents, such fawning appeasement of the Beijing regime could only have been a wretchedly discouraging message.  Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has the ability to redress her husband’s folly. At the very least, she might raise the question of why — if the UN has even a trace of integrity — Sha Zukang, after presenting this “World Harmony” award, still has his job.

Can the UN Come Clean on Bedbugs?

October 27th, 2010 - 4:06 pm

The United Nations has been plagued at the core and from the beginning with huge problems of exactly the kind one might expect from a diplomatically immune, consensus-centered multilateral collective in which some of the world’s worst governments have a say in making policy and spending someone else’s money (especially yours, dear U.S. taxpayer). These problems have turned up in the form of such scandals as Oil-for-Food and rape by UN peacekeepers. They manifest themselves in the form of exploding UN budgets, accompanied by a continuing lack of accountability, and feckless promises of reform. From the morally bankrupt Human Rights Council (which this year welcomed Libya to take one of the 47 seats) to a General Assembly presided over last year by Libya, and increasingly a creature of the Jeddah-based Organization of the Islamic Conference, the UN is an institution with deep and serious flaws — and these translate into real trouble not just for the U.S., but for the people living under the jackboots of many of the UN’s less attractive member governments.

Among the UN’s 192 member states, the only one which has a strong record of even attempting serious supervision and good faith reform of the UN is the U.S. But that kind of oversight has gone largely missing these past few years, and Americans right now have quite enough to debate on the homefront, and little attention to spare for such potentially eye-glazing stuff as the latest news on derelictions within the UN’s internal audit division, or subtleties of horse-trading within the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee (which, in case you don’t have a crib sheet handy, deals with the General Assembly’s budget).

The profound problems involve such matters as UN enforcement (or lack of it) for Iran sanctions; over-reach in peacekeeping; and campaigns and policies which do too much to legitimize tyrants, and too little to keep the peace, as well as the endless climate-con drumbeat to shackle the world economy while transferring wealth by would-be UN fiat from productive democracies to governments that specialize in impoverishing their own people.

But human nature being what it is, what gets easy play in the news is more often the potentially ridiculous — the UN version of Lady Gaga gossip — such as the flutter last month over the interest displayed in extraterrestrials by the head of the UN’s Vienna-based office on “the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.” So it is that this month the latest hot UN story is…. bedbugs. Yes, the UN’s headquarter buildings in New York, currently undergoing a $2 billion-plus renovation, have developed a bedbug infestation. It’s hardly earthshaking stuff, but even on this, it seems the UN has had trouble coming clean on the full extent of the problem — which has been going on since at least last year. Take it as a metaphor for a great many other, much larger UN problems. And if you are curious about the bedbugs, here’s the tale, from Matthew Russell Lee of Inner-City Press — by UN lights, a gadfly; but in my view one of the best-informed members of the UN press corps. To follow the bedbug cover-up, just start reading Matthew’s coverage, and follow the links within: “At UN, Bedbug Finds... .”

Obama and the Axis of Chavez

October 21st, 2010 - 8:45 pm

It’s getting ever tougher to tell hard news from satire, especially with headlines such as “Obama backs Venezuela’s right to nuclear energy” — this atop a story in which the AFP this week went on to report that President Barack Obama says he’s OK with Russia building a nuclear plant for Venezuela, as long as Venezuela doesn’t go and do something irresponsible with it all (such as maybe, well, you know… use the project as a cover for pursuing or installing nuclear weapons in America’s backyard).

Obama’s eye-popping line, quoted in this story, is: “We have no incentive or interest in increasing friction between Venezuela and the U.S., but we do think Venezuela needs to act responsibly.”

File that under the gazillion hollow U.S. statements of “concern” and “disappointment” which in recent years have punctuated Iran’s proliferating adventures with enriched uranium, and North Korea’s two nuclear tests. There are a great many things with which America would have no problem, if the predatory tyrants behind them would just act “responsibly” — the problem is that they have no intention of doing so, and they don’t.

In this case, Venezuela’s deal for a nuclear reactor emerged from a visit just paid by President Hugo Chavez to Moscow, as part of a ten-day trip to Belarus, Russia, Iran, Syria, Libya and Portugal. Setting aside Portugal, does anyone in the White House notice a common theme to this itinerary? Chavez is making yet another tour of an axis of despotisms. This gang runs the gamut from weapons dealers to sponsors of terrorism to nuclear proliferators — past, present and future. This is not the itinerary of a democratic leader shopping for technology to enhance the electricity supply of a free and happy citizenry back home. If your grandmother were to take off on a 10-day deal-making spree through Minsk, Moscow, Tehran, Damascus and Tripoli, you’d be right to wonder what she was really up to. When Hugo Chavez does it, it is head-spinning irresponsibility of the first order for the White House to entertain even for a split second the idea that this has anything to do with “peaceful” nuclear power.

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Airport Strip Search Conundrum

October 20th, 2010 - 6:37 pm

If there’s any upside at all to big government becoming ever bigger and more intrusive, it’s that the resulting absurdities do provide a certain amount of entertainment. I can’t say it’s remotely worth it, but pending salvation in the form of an electorate getting fed up with such stuff, let’s take what we can get.

So it was with a report on this evening’s TV new about a Houston-based airline pilot, Michael Roberts, who is now in danger of losing his job because at an airport security check he refused to go through a full-body scanner. Roberts told a Houston TV station that he objects to ”being frisked by an agent of the federal government every day on my way to work.” Blogging his experience, Roberts further explained that he objects to full body scanners in particular, which he says amount to “virtual strip searching.”

The Transportation Security Administration (the folks who at various times over the past nine years have amassed collections of your pen knives, shampoo and manicure scissors) fired back that “Security is not optional.”

Security is a good thing, and we can all be grateful if the TSA spares passengers the need to do their own policing of the next flaming underwear bomber (excuse me — “alleged” underwear bomber). But somewhere in here is the question of tradeoffs. How far do you go to provide security, and at what cost to whom? Shuffling shoeless through the airport checks, we’ve all become far too familiar with a federal system that puts Great Aunt Edna through a virtual strip search, while refusing even to attach the word “Islamist” to the “violent extremists” who are so keen to blow up or bring down airliners.

But in this case, it’s not even Aunt Edna who’s in trouble for balking at the body scanner. It’s the pilot. As my nephew, Max Rosett, summed it up, while watching the news with us this evening: ”What are they concerned he’s going to do? Hijack the plane?”

The Liu Xiaobo Peace Prize

October 9th, 2010 - 1:24 am

This year the Norwegian Nobel Committee got it right, in spades, giving the Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese democratic dissident Liu Xiaobo. It was a brilliant choice, spotlighting a man who has struggled and sacrificed for decades in the cause of bringing to the 1.3 billion people of China the freedoms and rights denied to them by the ruling Communist Party. Right now Liu is serving an 11 year sentence in China for “subversion.” The Nobel Committee, to its credit, picked him as the 2010 winner despite the protests of China’s government, and the award will surely be heartening to many of his cohorts in the long fight for a democratic China.

Good choices are rare enough in world politics right now, so it is tempting to stop right here, with a hurrah – or simply add that the Swedes also made a terrific choice this year, awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature to Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, a marvelous writer, deft with both comedy and tragedy, and a longtime champion of individual rights against the depredations of dictatorship.

But there’s the nagging question, especially in the case of the Nobel Peace Prize: Why should this award be considered such an honor?

How do we square this year’s Nobel choice of a truly praiseworthy man with the parade of so many previous laureates flush with puffery, sleaze, or worse? How does it honor Liu Xiaobo to place him in a linuep that includes  such “winners” as dictator-pandering Jimmy Carter, Kofi “Oil-for-Food” Annan, climate kook Al Gore, or the late terrorist, Yasser Arafat?

One answer might be that the Nobel Committee likes to mix it up. Some years they make fools of themselves with such shams as tapping Mohamed ElBaradei (the dithering and obfuscating former head of  the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, on whose watch nuclear proliferation rolled forward, not back) or President Barack Obama (who won the prize on credit). Some years they have redeemed themselves by tapping such heroic figures as the late Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov, or Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

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“One Nation,” Big Mess

October 3rd, 2010 - 12:17 pm

As Charles Krauthammer noted last month, the Tea Party ralliers in Washington, D.C., on the National Mall, left the place nearly spotless — “the first revolution in recorded history that picked up its own trash.”

Not so the progressives of the “One Nation Working Together” rally held Saturday, Oct. 2 in Washington, also on the National Mall. Here’s a Washington Post story on the event. Here’s a blogosphere video of what you won’t find mentioned in the Post story: the trashing of the Mall.

Conclude what you like.