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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Bothered in the Broccoli Republic

June 30th, 2012 - 9:02 pm

Dear Uncle Sam,

Forgive me. Although I am a loyal citizen, and despite all the excitement this past week at the Supreme Court, I have not read the entire “Affordable Care Act.” Nor do I want to. I’m not even sure exactly how long it really is, though once any document runs to more than 2,300 pages (which this does), it strikes me that it might be more efficient to skip such niceties as pagination, and just weigh it.

I do know that if you go to the federal web site Healthcare.gov, which I saw advertised on TV Thursday evening (who paid for that, by the way? Was it We, the Penalty Tax Payers? Or are broadcasters required to subsidize this?), you can find the full text of the law, conveniently broken up into Big Gulp-size sections. These are accompanied by a note that the sections “have been excerpted because presenting the Act in a single PDF results in a very large file which may present download difficulties.” (For real diehards, there is also a link to the full 4+ megabyte PDF file. Beware — I tried it, and had to reboot my computer.)

It is of course possible that right now millions of Americans are cheerfully downloading great wads of this act, poring over it the way the Chinese once studied the speeches of Mao, and preparing to adjust to this extraordinary new world in which government intervention makes everything work so much better. It might well be that I am a surly oddball, raised on those corny old ideas about the astounding benefits of free market competition. Perhaps I am unduly nervous that what this Act will produce is not better healthcare for all, but mediocre medicine rationed at exorbitant cost by a bureaucracy similar to the one that handles airport security.

All that said, however, I do have a few questions. Actually, I have a lot of questions. But to sort them all out and align them with the wildly shifting arguments that have gone into this law would leave me no time to earn the income to pay the tax, or the penalty, or the insurance premiums, or whatever it is we’re now calling it  – there seem to be a lot of plans right now to take a lot more of my income, and very little of that seems to be going to my actual doctors.

So, for the moment, I have boiled it all down to three questions (though, in the spirit of our esteemed authorities in Washington, they have subsections):

1) Has President Obama himself actually read this entire law? It is, after all, described as his signature achievement. Has anyone in the White House press corps, or for that matter anyone within shouting distance, ever asked him this question? And if he’s said he has indeed read it, may we know when, and where, and how long it took him to read it? … Or is that a level of detail with which America’s federal elite, with their special healthcare plans, and waivers for their pals, need not concern themselves?

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Saving Syria from Kofi Annan

June 28th, 2012 - 12:10 am

Some headlines seem designed to invite a one-word rejoinder, and so it is with a recent article on Slate: “How Kofi Annan Can Save Syria.”

Obvious answer: Resign.

Not that it would necessarily save Syria, were Annan to give up his role as UN-Arab League joint special envoy. But it would be a good first step. In the matter of saving Syria, it is probably the only step that Annan is capable of delivering.

But that’s not what Annan is doing, and that’s not where the Slate article goes. Instead, it urges a doubling down by way of “unqualified support” for Annan, described here as “the best diplomat we have.”

No surprise, since the author is former U.S. diplomat Christopher Hill, harking back to his glory days in the 1990s, negotiating the Dayton Accords. From his current perch as dean of the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, Hill argues that in Syria, Annan has understood “that any lasting political settlement must not be a triumph for one side or the other.” Instead, Hill urges “serious and sustained negotiations among interested international powers.” He adds, “Most importantly, all of the plan’s stakeholders then need to support Annan, publicly and privately.”

Where to begin? If Kofi Annan is the best diplomat we’ve got, then it’s about time the human race wrote off diplomacy as a failed field of endeavor. Annan spent most of his career in UN administration, with performances that ranged from mediocre to morally obtuse. As head of UN peacekeeping in the mid-1990s, his priority was the “neutrality” of UN stakeholders (to parrot the UN lingo), while genocidal mass murderers had their bloody triumphs in Rwanda and at Srebrenica. The UN stakeholders then chose to promote Annan in 1996 to secretary-general. That was a decision that should have raised serious questions about UN priorities and values, rather than being accepted as an endorsement of Annan’s competence.

As secretary-general, Annan served as the UN’s top administrator of the Oil-for-Food program for Saddam Hussein’s UN-sanctioned Iraq, In that capacity, Annan spent years urging the program’s expansion and ignoring its expanding scope and scale of corruption. During that exercise, one of Annan’s diplomatic coups was to go to Baghdad to persuade Saddam in 1998 not to kick out UN weapons inspectors. Annan flew back to New York to announce that while he didn’t trust Saddam, he could do business with him. Later that same year, Saddam kicked out the weapons inspectors anyway, and out they remained for four years, while Annan’s secretariat collected a cut of Saddam’s oil sales to finance “oversight” of the program, and Annan signed off on Baghdad relief plans that included equipment for Iraq’s Ministry of “Justice” and broadcasting equipment for Saddam’s Ministry of “Information.”

There’s plenty one could add, but the bottom line in this case is, Syria is a complex scene, where a murderous, terrorist-sponsoring dictatorship — Bashar Assad’s regime is a business partner of totalitarian North Korea and an intimate client of terror-sponsoring Iran — is at war with an opposition that includes both democrats and Islamist jihadis. Annan is not only in over his head; he rarely displays any good sense about which way is up.

As for Chris Hill, who now urges unqualified support for whatever Annan next conjures up for Syria, let us recall Hill’s starring role during during the second George W. Bush administration, as head of the U.S. delegation to the Six-Party Talks with North Korea.

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Ahmadinejad in Rio

June 22nd, 2012 - 10:28 pm

It is by now a scene so familiar it’s become routine. At your expense, dear taxpayers of the planet — and especially at the expense of all you colonialist, imperialist, capitalist taxpayers of the United States — the United Nations holds a huge gathering. Eminences and excellencies jet in from around the globe, and as they parade across the stage to make their statements, among those invited to the podium is Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Since his “election” in 2005, Ahmadinejad has appeared seven times at the annual openings of the General Assembly debates in New York, and will presumably pop up for an eighth roadshow in Manhattan, courtesy of the UN, this September. He has spoken at a 2008 conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization, in Rome; at a 2010 nonproliferation summit in New York; and of course in 2009 he was a star speaker at the Durban II bigoted conference on anti-bigotry, in Geneva.

And this week, when some 50,000 eminences, professional climate junketeers and other worthies carbon-emitted their way to Brazil for the UN’s Rio+20 conference on “Sustainable Development,” there came, of course, that Ahmadinejad moment. Eighteen minutes and 16 seconds of Ahmadinejad, actually — you can watch it on video here – in which UN authorities announced the “honor” of inviting “his excellency” to take the podium. The current leaders of the Free World — those would be the Canadian delegates — walk out. Maybe some others do, too. Still in the room is an audience that will applaud at the end of Ahmadinejad’s speech, and a presiding UN official who will thank him for it. Ahmadinejad ascends the stage, and with a multilateral backdrop of flags, before a lectern decked  out with the UN logo, he preens himself in the world spotlight. Webcast to the world, he addresses the chamber.

That’s the UN. That’s how it works. Never mind that Iran’s government, in mocking violation of sanctions imposed by the UN’s own Security Council, is enroute to producing nuclear weapons. Never mind that Iran’s regime, represented here by Ahmadinejad, sponsors terror networks around the globe, tortures and murders dissidents at home, and has led the modern world in juvenile executions. Never mind that Ahmadinejad has threatened to wipe the nation of Israel off the map. At the UN, all excellencies, however unexcellent, are invited to enjoy the prestige of the podium.

Does it matter? Does this routine really do any harm?

Yes, it matters. Ahmadinejad’s speech itself will surely be of interest to specialists, who may find plenty to parse in the exact phrasing of his messianic pronouncements on the coming of a new world order : “The international order must be redesigned to serve both material and spiritual needs of humankind….That day is coming… permanent peace and love… monotheism, justice and love… .”

To me, he sounds like he’s taken his cues from the fictitious General Jack D. Ripper, the deranged author of nuclear apocalypse in Dr. Strangelove. Except this is no Hollywood film. This guy speaks as the face of a nuclear-wannabe regime that has collaborated with al-Qaeda, and whose terror mascots and storm troopers have been in the atrocity business for decades, from Beirut to Buenos Aires to Damascus.

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It’s quite perverse enough that the United Nations would have a so-called Committee on Information whose members include such censorship-loving regimes as those of Belarus, China, Cuba, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Zimbabwe and Syria.

That alone would suggest it’s time to disband this committee, which is charged with steering UN “public information policies and activities” – a task that according to the committee’s web site includes being “responsible for overseeing the work of the Department of Public Information and for providing it guidance on policies, programmes and activities of the Department.” The question is not only what kind of policy guidance such despotisms as North Korea, Syria or China might contribute to UN information programs and activities. The further question for the UN is what kind of insane farce of an “information” committee would stoop to dignify the likes of the governments of North Korea, Syria, China, or the rest of this caboodle of despotisms, with membership?

But then comes the cherry on top of this particular UN confection, the icing on this slice of multilateral cake. The current rapporteur chosen by this UN Committee on Information is none other than Iran.

Here it is folks, the web site for the committee, listing the officers for 2011-2012, including, as “rapporteur,” Mohammad Reza Sahraei, of Iran’s Mission to the UN in New York. Yes, this is the same Iranian tyranny that jails and murders its own people for speaking out in dissent. Just this past spring, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei decreed the formation of a Supreme Council of Cyberspace, including, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “heads of intelligence, militia, security and the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as media chiefs” — the aim being to institutionalize what was already the regime’s stock practice of ferocious censorship.

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Last year the United Nations held a contest inviting anyone over the age of 18 to submit a 30-second pitch via YouTube to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for an idea “that could change the world.”  On the theory that it might be salutary for the secretary-general to get a few submissions pitching ideas as radical as actually reforming the UN itself, or even shutting down the UN and replacing it with an institution less likely to install North Korea as chair of the Disarmament Committee, I posted a link to the contest on the The PJ Tatler, under the caption, “Don’t Tempt Us.”

If Ban received any pitches that deviated from the usual UN program, it appears they didn’t win. He made do with a pitch to end poverty (great idea; wrong venue — the UN has a track record of legitimizing and even subsidizing despotic regimes that produce sustainable poverty), plus a pitch to recycle more plastic bottles. There was a third winner, but for reasons not explained by the UN, that video is marked “private.”

But here’s another chance, at least for the youth contingent, to pitch to Ban Ki-moon. The UN is holding an “Essay Writing Contest for University Students: Write a Speech for the  Secretary-General.” The caption is slightly misleading, because there is no guarantee that Ban will actually deliver the speech. But he might at least have to read it. Students are invited to “imagine,” by way of drafting in up to 1,500 words, “a speech that would be made by the Secretary-General at the opening of the next session of the General Assembly.” Three winners will be chosen, and invited to New York to meet with Ban (as well as to Washington, to meet with the Brookings Institution, which is co-hosting this contest).

University students have a serious stake in this sort of thing. They are going to be living for a long time with the world the UN is now trying to shape. There’s no reason they have to stick to the usual UN cant. It is quite possible to “imagine” a speech to the 2012 General Assembly opening this September in which the secretary-general begins by listing the actual failings of the UN — for instance, the secrecy, the abuse of immunities, the thug-heavy executive boards, the oversight failures, the perversion of a Human Rights Council, the annual platform for Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York — and apologize for accepting these as the norm. It’s even possible to imagine the secretary-general declaring that he plans to go ahead, at long last, with an independent, external system-wide audit of all UN activities — something he promised during his first month in office, in 2007, but has never delivered.

In sum, it is possible to “imagine,” and to draft, a truly great speech for the secretary-general, a speech including two elements surpassingly rare in the UN General Assembly hall: integrity and truth. The deadline is June 15. So, all you students, leaders of the next generation, here’s that link again. It’s your future they’re planning — Write a Speech for the Secretary-General. Over to you.