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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Axioms for 2012

December 31st, 2011 - 7:23 pm

So volatile are these times that friends keep adding caveats to the wishes for a Happy New Year. My variation on this has become, Happy New Year, whatever it may bring!

But amid the uncertainties, there are a few things of which we can be sure. Some are so obvious that only among experts and politicians do they really need spelling out. Nonetheless, given the abundance of experts and politicians currently jockeying for the cockpits of the planet, I offer below a small selection of axioms for 2012:

1) The government does not “create” jobs.

In matters of the economy, all the government really has the ability to do is force the transfer of assets — in too many cases eroding liberty, destroying real jobs and wasting resources. Any candidate, from any party, who tells you he or she has some great program for job creation is offering another big bamboozle (unless that jobs program boils down to simply getting the government’s all-too-visible hands out of the marketplace).

2) Diplomatic persuasion has its limits: Negotiations will not persuade Iran’s regime to scrap its nuclear weapons program.

3) Ditto the bit about diplomatic persuasion: No matter how many variations on 2-party, 3-party, 4,5,6 or umpteen-party talks might for the umpteenth time sound tempting, North Korea’s regime will not be negotiated out of its nuclear weapons program.

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UN Bows Again to Kim Jong Il

December 28th, 2011 - 10:34 am

The United Nations just can’t stop honoring North Korea’s dead mass-murdering tyrant, Kim Jong Il. Today, in tandem with North Korea’s funeral for Kim, UN offices around the world have lowered their flags to half mast — or so reports Xinhua, state news agency and self-described “important information organ” of the Kim regime’s best pal, the government of the People’s Republic of China. This UN flag-lowering for Kim follows last week’s moment of silence for Kim in the UN General Assembly.

It’s all a rich propaganda gift for the North Korean regime, now trotting out Kim’s son as the Great Successor and Supreme Commander, and tallying the condolences from places such as Equatorial Guinea and Sudan. Amid such company, it is quite a plum for the Pyongyang regime to see the U.S.-subsidized UN flags dipping worldwide in a show of respect for Kim.

Let us repeat — for the weeping, wailing people of North Korea, there is at least the excuse that unless they provide an impassioned public display of grief over the demise of the thug whose regime has sent hundreds of thousands to be starved, tortured, frozen, worked to death or executed outright in Kim’s prison camps, that same regime may inflict horrible punishment on them. But for the eminences and bureaucrats of the UN, there is no excuse. In dipping its flag to half mast, the UN is effectively delivering a message of encouragement to a North Korean regime which sustains itself by way of repression, murder and nuclear proliferation. This is not solely a symbolic case of UN protocol trumping human decency; this is an act cheap for the comfortable offices of the UN to engage in, but potentially so costly that at the far end of the message transmitted to Pyongyang, more people may die. A UN flag that is lowered to half mast for Kim Jong Il is a flag does not deserve to fly at all.

The Long Rough Awakening of Russia

December 24th, 2011 - 7:02 pm

Twenty years ago this Christmas day, Mikhail Gorbachev gave a speech announcing “I hereby discontinue my activities at the post of President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” And with that, the totalitarian and murderous construct of the USSR, already uncoupled earlier that month by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the presidents of Ukraine and Belarus, was no more.

These were monumental events. Yet so tumultuous is the world right now that the 20th anniversary of the Soviet collapse is figuring as little more than a footnote in the news. In Russia itself, the events of the hour are the protests against the reign of Vladimir Putin, with tens of thousands of people bravely demonstrating in the freezing streets, alleging foul play in the recent parliamentary elections and, as the AFP reports, carrying banners with slogans such as “We woke up and this is only the beginning.”

If so, it has been a long beginning. Twenty years have passed since Russia officially embarked on its awakening. An entire new generation has come of age, and the years since Christmas of 1991 have been filled with trouble, disappointments, crude grabs for Russia’s colossal natural resources, the fading of freedoms once promised, and the rise of a new autocracy. There would be room for a more joyous celebration of the Soviet collapse, were there less call to deplore a great deal of what has followed.

But I would not give up on Russia, or at least on the Russians.

An anecdote: In 1993, I arrived in Russia to work as a foreign correspondent at the Wall Street Journal‘s Moscow bureau. It was a queasy time, fascinating but difficult. No one knew quite what the rules were anymore. Nothing worked the way one wanted it to. As one source explained it to me, no one even knew anymore whom to bribe.

There came a cold, gray miserable evening in the early autumn of 1993, during the standoff between Yeltsin and the Soviet-installed old parliament, when I was alone in the bureau — and the power went out. Yet another bout of news was breaking about the endless tussles in the Kremlin, and I had just a few hours to find out whatever I could, and file a story to the foreign desk in New York. The office was freezing, and without electricity the TASS machine had gone dead, the satellite phone was on the fritz, and the lights were out. I managed to place some phone calls, using the erratic Russian phone lines. Then, in my frustration, I made a call to the U.S., to seek some wisdom from an old family friend, economist Douglass North — who later that year received the Nobel Prize for his work on the interactions of economic and institutional change.

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A Monstrous Moment at the UN General Assembly

December 22nd, 2011 - 3:42 pm

This isn’t just a low moment. It is despicable. The United Nations General Assembly has just paid tribute to the late North Korean tyrant, Kim Jong Il, with delegates standing to observe a minute of silence in his memory.

The Associated Press reports that this kind of tribute is “customary for leaders who die in office” and that North Korea’s Mission to the UN requested this tribute to Kim. There were no speeches, and the chamber was half empty.

None of that excuses the depraved act of the UN honoring a man whose rule was responsible for abominations and atrocities inflicted by Kim Jong Il and his regime during Kim’s 17 years in power, or for that matter Kim’s long prior career under his father of engineering terrorist acts such as bombings and abductions abroad. For the UN to pay any tribute to Kim Jong Il is to insult the million or more Koreans who died of famine, the hundreds of thousands consigned to Kim’s prison camps, and the many millions more leading lives of grotesque fear and deprivation — all as the cost of Kim’s rule.

Nothing in the UN rulebook requires the General Assembly to pay tribute to its array of resident monsters. The Assembly could have replied to the North Korean mission that there will be no tribute to anyone, dead or living, who contributed to North Korea’s totalitarian horrors. But this same General Assembly that annually demands billions of dollars from U.S. tax payers — and gets them from our federal government — has just paid tribute to Kim Jong Il. What more do we need to know?

Memo to World Diplomats: Don’t Cry for Kim

December 19th, 2011 - 12:10 am

To release news of Kim Jong Il’s death, North Korea’s government stuck a woman newsreader in front of a TV camera, where she sobbed and wept her way through the announcement. In coming days we can expect to see a lot more North Korean wailing and weeping. For such lamentation over the death of a monster, North Koreans at least have the excuse that they have been bombarded all their lives with Kim’s propaganda, and if that didn’t do the job, they could be shipped off to the North Korean prison camps, with their families, to be starved and beaten into a more acceptable posture of deference. Whatever their private views, they have plenty of reasons to weep.

The rest of the world has no such excuse. Nonetheless, CNN’s all-night all-North Korea coverage has already been featuring a parade of commentators warning that we must be tactful with North Korean feelings at this “delicate” time. I fear that we are about to witness a diplomatic outpouring of condolences to North Korea on the death of Kim. Already, reports the AFP, the Japanese government has done exactly that — issuing a statement that “We express our condolences upon receiving the announcement of the sudden pasing of Kim Jong Il, the chairman of the National Defense Committee of North Korea.”

Please. There are moments when diplomatic lies have their uses. The death of Kim is not one of them. He was a mass-murdering tyrant, a cosmic cheat whose brand of power entailed abductions and terrorist killings, proliferating missiles and nuclear plans to other rogue powers, running narcotics and counterfeiting rackets out of his embassies, stunting his own country, maintaining Stalin-style prison camps and starving to death an estimated million or more of his own countrymen.

There are some nations whose governments may genuinely regret the death of Kim, for the reason that he was a handy business partner in their missile and nuclear proliferation ventures, or a convenient irritant and menace to the West. Iran and Syria will surely send flowers. China and Russia will likely make some ritual display of grief. And there are some that in their quest for solidarity, or perhaps for business, apparently have no shame. The same Korean Central News Agency web site now reporting Kim’s death still features such recent news items as the goodwill visit just made by Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, to Tanzania — where he was reportedly received by the president.

But for any self-respecting free nation, or for that matter, any multilateral crew that pretends to defend human rights and dignity (the United Nations comes to mind) there can be no excuse to send condolences to North Korea on the death of Kim. Far from gaining the goodwill and cooperation of whomever, or whatever, now takes power in Pyongyang, any show of respect would only help to preserve Kim’s monstrous system. If condolences should be sent, they should be sent not to the government of North Korea, but to North Korea’s 23 million people — and they should be condolences not for the death of Kim Jong Il, but for his long and ruinous life.


What Ban Ki-Moon Left Out

December 15th, 2011 - 11:40 pm

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon just held his annual year-end press conference, at which he touched on just about everything this side of Alpha Centauri. Whatever the issue — from climate, to peace, security, human rights, humanitarian relief, sustainable development,”energy, food, water, health and education, and oceans” — the United Nations, promises Ban, will be at the fore.

Nor was Ban’s discussion entirely abstract. In his opening remarks alone, he mentioned the situations in Burma, Syria, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Haiti and the Philippines. In the question-answer period, he talked about the Arab Spring, Tunisia, Egypt, North Korea and “an era of uncertainty and inequity.” He expressed concern about the inequities of developed countries, and noted that he and his advisers have been pondering how to address the issues raised by “Occupy Wall Street.” He fretted about the cut-off of U.S. funding to UNESCO, his concern being not that UNESCO itself had triggered this de-funding by admitting the Palestinians, but that UNESCO might now have less money — a concern he said he has been expressing “to world leaders whomever I met.”

Ban also slipped in a gift to the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas, by way of a reference to the Palestinians as “Palestine” (has he not noticed that the UN has not recognized any such state?): “We must continue to push for peace between Israel and Palestine.”

On and on he went, closing with a disquisition on his expectation that at the “Sustainable Development” summit next June in Rio, the UN in one grand slam plans to consolidate its guiding grip on “all the global challenges we have been dealing with in separate forums, like climate change, the food crisis, water, energy, global health issues, oceans and gender empowerment.” You can read it all here.

And yet, somehow, there’s one thing Ban left out. In the arena that is supposed to be center ring at the UN circus — preventing “the scourge of war” — Ban entirely omitted the top crisis in the world today. Not a word, not a whisper, did he utter about Iran. Not once did the name of the country pass his lips. He made no mention of Iran’s UN-resolutions-violating nuclear program, its global terror networks, its monstrous human rights abuses, its abetting of the Syrian regime’s slaughter or its provision of weapons and terrorist training to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza portion of “Palestine.” He never mentioned Iran. Did he simply forget?


Mother of All Grinches, North Korea

December 11th, 2011 - 11:29 pm

The AFP reports that North Korea’s government has warned South Korea it will retaliate with “unexpected consequences,” should the South display Christmas lights near the DMZ that divides the two Koreas. Apparently the North regards Christmas lights as propaganda, and is accusing the South of using them to try to spread Christianity to the North.

If that sounds like a case of whacky North Korean paranoia, it is anything but. So monstrous is Kim Jong Il’s regime, that Christmas lights present it with a genuine threat. Under the repression of Kim’s totalitarian system of Juche, North Korea is the heart of darkness — infamous for showing up on night-time satellite photos as an abrupt blank on the map, next to the bright lights of the South. It may well be that word of Christianity has been seeping into North Korea. But the deeper danger for Kim’s regime is the basic message that  just across the DMZ are Koreans whose rival belief system, unlike Juche, allows its followers enough prosperity — including a wealth of electricity, and lightbulbs — so that they can celebrate during this darkest time of year by switching on yet more lights.

That’s not propaganda; it’s the truth; and it’s truth of a kind that could help bring down the Pyongyang regime. I can’t think of a more brilliant use for Christmas lights.


Climate Corruption 101

December 8th, 2011 - 12:14 am

Never mind where you might stand on the question of global warming, global cooling, climate change or plain old weather. If there’s one constant to  this entire climate debate, it is that in the name of “climate,” the United Nations wishes to regulate and tax the economy of the planet — stripping resources from the most productive economies to hand them out as assorted UN bureaucrats deem fit.

This is an agenda for global central planning — which, at the extreme, is what the Soviet Union envisioned as the radiant future of mankind, at least until the USSR itself collapsed as a basket case of monstrously misallocated resources, pervaded by the nightmare repression required to enforce such a system. Nonetheless, at the UN this agenda keeps coming up, year after year, at one climate conference after another. The proclamations of emergency have varied, but always, in the middle of it, there is the UN, proposing to serve as planner and traffic cop for global commerce — a role that entails the UN aiming to redirect resources and collecting a cut to cover the administrative enterprises of its own neo-colonial empire of agencies, organizations, intergovernmental outfits, programs and special envoys. Somehow that already includes a need for climate conferees to travel great distances at other people’s expense, with UN officials touching down from business class long-haul flights to spend a week, or maybe two, conferring at luxury hotels in locations such as Rio, Copenhagen, Cancun and Bali.

Right now, at the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, they’re at it again, conferring for a fortnight. There, they are trying to design a “Green Climate Fund,” hoping to impose some form of global taxes that would bring in some $100 billion per year, to be redistributed to countries the UN decides are most at risk from change in climate. Reports have been emerging that the UN is eyeing a “carbon” tax on shipping, or international financial transactions, or cross-border aviation. Of course, this would raise the cost of commerce for everyone, so there is a further proposal, reports AFP, to use some of the money to compensate developing countries, at the expense of the most productive countries, for the higher costs. Such an arrangement would presumably require yet more intervention from the UN, since someone would have to decide which countries should be compensated, and to what extent — presumably a changing scene, as economic shifts occur — and of course there would be a need for more international bureaucrats to administer such a scheme. It’s also a good bet that more UN bureaucrats would also devote some of their time to coming up with yet more global tax schemes. The possibilities are staggering.

As a recipe for corruption of monumental scope, this is brilliant. It would open money spigots on a scale the UN to date has only dreamt of. A direct tax on global trade — in whatever form (shipping, aviation or finance) would free the UN from such inconveniences as drumming up voluntary but finite contributions from member states, or operating with a budget somewhat constrained by assessed dues. Not since the UN’s Oil-for-Food program tapped right into a 2.2% cut of the late Saddam Hussein’s oil sales has the UN had such access to rivers of cash… except this is bigger. Much bigger. Tapping directly into global trade would dwarf Saddam’s billions in oil revenues.

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