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The Rosett Report

Monthly Archives: July 2012

It’s now 17 months since Vogue published its cover-story paean to the first lady of Syria, “Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert.” Readers were treated to a profile of Asma up close, “the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies,” a dazzling paragon of understated style and philanthropic works, “on a mission to create a beacon of secularism and culture in a powder-keg region — and to put a modern face on her husband’s regime.” Asma, “glamorous, young and very chic,” was featured playing with her kids, whipping up home-cooked fondue with her jeans-clad husband, “the off-duty president,” and urging millions of Syrian youth to engage in “active citizenship.”

That was February of 2011. The following month, Syrians began engaging in a lot more active citizenship than the Assad regime evidently had in mind, rising in rebellion against the dynastic tyranny in Damascus. For 16 months now, abetted by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Syrian regime has been fighting back — with heavy weapons, arrests, torture and butchery, mutilating and murdering even children. To date, an estimated 19,000 or more Syrians have been slaughtered, and the killing continues.

Now, at long last, comes a recantation of sorts from the author of Vogue‘s “Rose in the Desert,” Joan Juliet Buck.  To call it a full-throated apology would be inaccurate. Buck appears genuinely appalled by the carnage with which the Assad regime itself so swiftly and utterly discredited her labors to give it a fashion-plate human face. But her deeper sympathies seem reserved for herself, and her woefully bad luck that her Asma profile — which closed with President Bashar al-Assad, surrounded by singing children, ringing a peace bell —  came out just before the monstrous character of the Assad regime hove into full view in the international headlines. (After a blitz of criticism last year, Vogue scrubbed the article from its web site, though you can still find a copy here.)

Joan Juliet Buck: Mrs. Assad Duped Me” is the headline of Buck’s new take on Asma al-Assad, published in the current edition of Newsweek, with an accompanying essay by Tina Brown on “Syria’s First Lady of Hell: The real story behind the notorious interview.”

In Buck’s new version of her encounter with the Assads at home, we are now enjoined to see Buck as the victim. She tells us she set off, at the urging of her longtime editors at Vogue, to have a cultural adventure — after all, “when else would I get to see the ruins of Palmyra?” Besides, as she notes, she was taking a road to Damascus already trodden by such pioneers as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Senator John Kerry, Sting, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Francis Coppola; as well as a public relations firm hired by the Assads, Brown Lloyd James (which took care of her Syria visa).

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Somehow, the worst regimes seem perpetually to enjoy the greatest benefit of the doubt, with outside observers repeatedly hanging hopes of reform on any hint of a human face at the top. For years, this has been the rule with North Korea, which goes through cycles in which shifts in the propaganda are reported with excitement in the Western press as hints of potential opening and change, or at least as entertaining kitsch. Meanwhile, North Korea’s regime carries on with its monstrous repression, slave labor camps, massive military and illicit weapons programs.

Here we go again, as reports emerge about the sprightly tastes of Kim Jong Un, third-generation heir to North Korea’s totalitarian state — a lively and smiling young tyrant, who turns out to have a mysterious young wife, and a taste for Disney characters.

What to make of this? Former Washington Post reporter Blaine Harden, author of “Escape From Camp 14,” had a terrific piece in Foreign Policy, July 26: “North Korea’s Extreme Makeover.” Harden warns, “Before we allow ourselves to get too hopeful or amused, it is worth noting that North Korea remains uniquely repressive. Indeed, after seven months under Kim Jong Un, the entire country seems to have become even more of a prison than it was under his father, Kim Jong Il, not less.”

Now comes a dispatch from The Wall Street Journal, “North Korea: We’re Not Changing!” reporting that North Korea itself is refuting speculation that it might be changing in any fundamental way. The source of this claim? North Korea’s own state mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency, which refers to western optimists as “idiots,” and writes: “To expect ‘policy change’ and ‘reform opening’ from the DPRK is nothing but a foolish and silly dream just like wanting the sun to rise in the west.” Yep.

For a moment, it looked like even before Friday’s opening ceremony the London Olympics were off to a visionary start. On the first day of competition, just before a women’s soccer match between North Korea and Colombia, an introductory video shown on big screens in the Glasgow stadium displayed the flag not of North Korea, but of South Korea.

Shock! Horror! The North Korean team stormed off the field, and refused for a while to come out and play. The game was delayed. The incident spawned a host of headlines such as the Wall Street Journal’s “North Korea Outraged Over Flag Flub,” and, from the Associated Press, “Chorus of Apologies at Olympics for North Korean Flag Flap.” Members of a CNN panel denounced it as a “national insult” to North Korea. The Olympic organizers issued groveling apologies to North Korea. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge called the flag mixup “most unfortunate.” As for British Prime Minister David Cameron, he tried to excuse it as an “honest mistake,” leading to headlines such as that in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper: “David Cameron joins scramble to placate North Korea after flag fiasco.”

Seems to me they’re all apologizing to the wrong Korea. If any nation had rights to be insulted by the mixup, it was not North Korea. It was South Korea.

The differences could hardly be more stark. The North is home to a regime that for three generations of dynastic totalitarian rule has starved, stunted and oppressed its population, while threatening the free world. North Korea’s chief exports and policy contributions to the planet have been missiles, narcotics, counterfeit currency, terrorism, kidnapping and nuclear blackmail. If members of its athletic teams deserve sympathy for any flag mixup, it is mainly because they have no reasonable choice but to march in lockstep with the murderous regime that has dispatched them to compete in the Olympics. Under North Korea’s monstrous system, any show of disrespect for authority can result in the exile not only of the offender, but of three generations of his or her family, to the slave labor gulag with which the ruling Kim dynasty maintains its grip on power.

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Whatever Happened to the Hariri Case?

July 21st, 2012 - 12:42 am

In early 2005, it was big news. A massive bomb blast on a main road near the Beirut waterfront killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and 22 others. The Lebanese rose up, blaming their Syrian occupiers and demanding that Syria withdraw from Lebanon. The UN launched a high profile investigation into the Hariri assassination, amid a lot of grandstanding about truth and justice. And then… it all went on, and on, and it became ever more confusing to keep track. Eventually the UN Security Council created a special tribunal, seated in The Hague, with chambers and a prosecutor and a defense team, and a holiday schedule. The tribunal eventually indicted four members of Hezbollah.

So where do things now stand?

Well, there was actually a bit of news this week. A judge at the tribunal has now set a tentative date for the trial to begin: March 25, 2013.

None of the four men indicted are actually in custody. It’s expected that they will be tried in absentia. By the time their trial begins (assuming the tribunal sticks to its tentative schedule) more than eight years will have passed since that bomb blast in Beirut. If the aim was to spend millions of dollars creating another UN-backed quasi-permanent institution, the entire venture might be considered a great success. If the aim was to deliver justice, and bring to account the terror-masters behind the assassination of Hariri, and a great many others, this project is looking ever more like another indictment of the UN system itself.

Your UN: Tax Proliferators for the Planet

July 8th, 2012 - 11:25 pm

American taxpayers shell out billions to the United Nations system every year. So what does that money help pay for?

Well, one thing that U.S. taxes help fund is the UN’s quest for new ways to impose yet more taxes, which the UN would like to see collected and spent not by national authorities, but by some global authority, such as, well, the UN itself. These taxes would in turn help finance UN planning of the global economy — a process which, to judge by the record, would then generate yet more UN proposals for yet more taxes. As an exercise in proliferation, it’s almost elegant.

On this theme, Agence France-Presse produced a fascinating dispatch recently, summarizing one of the UN’s latest endeavors: “UN calls for ‘billionaires tax’ to help the world’s poor.” The article cites a new UN report, which lists a whole array of potential taxes that the UN considers worth exploring, and which it is considering as avenues to raise some $400 billion per year for “poor countries.”

The list was so extensive, so arrogant, so utterly over-reaching — it sounded like a spoof.

No such luck. I went looking for the original UN report, and here it is, from the UN Secretariat’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the World Economic and Social Survey 2012, titled “In Search of New Development Finance.”  Just scroll down to Section 1, pages 4-5 for the handy chart, listing proposals for everything from a global tax on billionaires (which the UN estimates might generate $40-$50 billion), to taxes on carbon, financial transactions, currency exchange, etc.

The potential mechanics alone raise all sorts of horrifying questions. How, exactly, would the UN determine who is a billionaire? Would we all be required to file tax returns with the UN? Would the U.S. federal government be expected to turn over individual tax returns to the UN? Would the UN — which has yet to master the art of auditing itself — set to work auditing the rest of us? We are now heading into the realms of science fiction, and not sci-fi of the warm and cuddly variety.

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Happy Fourth of July!

Though I share Roger Simon’s gloom about the state of the nation. Skipping lightly over the heavyweight matters of the hour, on the simplest level I just didn’t have the heart today to go to a replay of the small town Independence Day Parade we went to last year — which featured firetrucks, tractors and a congressman throwing candy to the kids, but amid the thumping rock and disco music somehow neglected to include a single patriotic song. No God Bless America, no Yankee Doodle, no Star-Spangled Banner.  None of those stirring words, “Stand beside her, and guide her,” no reminders to “Let Freedom Ring.” No moment when the crowd stood to attention to honor the astounding creation of this republic, Land of the Free, and the immense bounty that has flowed from its founding principles, that we are endowed not by the government, but by our Creator, with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Did they forget? Do they not care?

Yet, I think millions upon millions of Americans do care. My hunch is that if someone had thought to play the national anthem, that crowd would have loved it. I think if someone had stepped up to the microphone to sing “God Bless America,” the crowd would have joined in, and I even believe some would have had tears in their eyes. I would wager that among the families lining the curbs to see the parade roll by were veterans who fought for this country, and people willing to do a great many things, both mundane and heroic, to preserve America’s freedoms. This is not solely a matter of sending a message via the ballot box. It is also a matter of reviving a culture in which we produce leaders fit to meet the immense challenges, both within our borders, and beyond, to the principles of liberty and law on which this amazing country has been built.

Two video clips in that spirit follow on the next page.

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