The Rosett Report

The Rosett Report

Bravo to The Interview

December 25th, 2014 - 1:58 am

Yes, bravo to Hollywood’s comedy about North Korea.

After the epic furor of the past six months, including the early pre-release denunciation of the movie and threats voiced against it in June by North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, the hack attack in November on Sony Pictures Entertainment, the hackers’ threats in December against American movie-goers, the cancellation by Sony last week of the movie’s scheduled Christmas Day release, the scolding of Sony by President Obama in between his embrace of Cuba and his departure last Friday for a Hawaii vacation — OK, take a deep breath — Sony finally released the movie both in theaters and for rental online. So, on Christmas eve, we watched.

And yes, The Interview is crude, vulgar, silly, tedious at times and crammed with what we might politely call locker-room gags, presumably meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator of modern pop culture. If you’re in the market for a brilliant comic and cultured takedown of tyranny, era no object, then you’d do much better to spend an evening with Carole Lombard and Jack Benny, in the 1942 classic about a Polish acting troupe versus the Nazis, To Be or Not to Be.

But as a graphic jab at North Korea’s totalitarian system, including its third-generation current tyrant, Kim Jong Un, The Interview — despite its lavish dose of rubbish — is a standout achievement. It is a burlesque laced with moments of truth that anyone can understand.

OK  – spoilers ahead. There is a scene at the end, in which North Korea’s Kim regime has fallen, and Kim’s former chief of security, a comely woman named Sook (played by Diana Bang), who turns on her totalitarian boss and helps the clueless heroes free her country, is skyping freely and happily from North Korea to the U.S. For that scene alone, the movie is worth it. This depiction of a North Korea free of the long nightmare of the totalitarian Kim dynasty is a vision that seems to endlessly elude legions of extremely serious international leaders and diplomats, who are forever talking about engaging, reforming or containing North Korea’s regime — which is structured at its core to resist such efforts and carry on brutalizing its people and menacing the free world. The Interview may be short on sophistication, but it cuts to the basic truth: that regime has to go.

The plot of The Interview, in brief:  Two TV- tabloid journalists, sad sack producer Aaron Rappaport (played by Seth Rogen) and ditzy celebrity talk show host Dave Skylark (played by James Franco) land an exclusive interview with Kim Jong Un in North Korea. They are asked by the CIA to assassinate him, and after various misadventures in Pyongyang they fumble the mission. Instead, with the help of Sook, they do something even more damaging to the Pyongyang regime: in an interview televised not only internationally, but also to a North Korean audience, they expose Kim as an insecure and murderous fraud — nothing like North Korea’s official propaganda and totalitarian myth of a godlike figure presiding over a happy and thriving nation. They end up fleeing for their lives, along with Sook,  in a tank given to Kim’s grandfather, founding tyrant Kim Il Sung, by Stalin (in my country, it’s pronounced “Stallone,” Skylark tells Kim Jong Un, earlier in the movie). Kim pursues them, in a helicopter gunship. To save their own lives, they fire at him with the tank, blowing him up (and so save the world from the nuclear weapons, which Kim, in his rage, is about to launch).

There’s been a lot of debate about whether it’s appropriate to make a comedy, or any kind of movie, about the assassination of a sitting head of state. Whether Kim deserves to be classified as a legitimate ruler (he is not actually the titular head of the state; he is the monolithic supreme leader of the Korean Workers’ Party, which enjoys pervasive monopoly control over the state, utterly crushing all rivals), and whether the movie is actually about an assassination, are the more relevant questions here. In this plotline, the downfall of Kim, and his regime, comes not with the final kaboom, but with the interview in which he is exposed before a collective TV audience in his own country as a brutal fraud.

And amid the vulgarities, there is a scene that deserves to be excerpted and shown on big screens everywhere…

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Hacked by North Korea? Just Call the President

December 20th, 2014 - 1:28 am

From Hollywood back-biting to North Korean terrorist threats against American movie-goers, the hacking-of-Sony saga by now includes so many stupefying elements that it’s hard to know where to begin. But let’s focus on President Obama’s remarks at his end-of-year press conference Friday, when he criticized Sony Pictures Entertainment for canceling its planned Christmas Day nation-wide release of The Interview, the movie that incurred the wrath of Pyongyang by making fun of one of the 21st century’s most ludicrous tyrants, Kim Jong Un.

A reporter asked Obama if Sony had made a mistake in pulling the movie.  Obama summarized part of the background: “Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced.”

Having staked out his ground as a sympathetic observer, he hit the punch line: “Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.”

He went on to say: “I wish they had spoken to me first. I would have told them, do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.”

Pause the tape right there. What did the president leave out? Why, he omitted the terrorist threats of physical assault issued by the hackers, who — having cyber-attacked, robbed and humiliated Sony for more than three weeks — finally sent emails captioned “Warning.” These emails threatened that a “bitter fate” awaited anyone who might go to a screening of The Interview, and drove home the point with the message: “The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September, 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave).”

These emails surfaced in media reports on Tuesday, Dec. 16. The threats came from hackers who had already demonstrated considerable destructive power and intent with their massive cyber assault on Sony. Movie theaters took the threat seriously (so did the police departments in Los Angeles and New York, according to Reuters), and scrapped plans to show The Interview. With no one willing to show the movie, Sony — already hit with costly destruction — pulled the plug on the release.

This was not merely a criminal attack. It was a terrorist threat issued by hackers whom, at that stage, the administration had evidently identified as working for North Korea. Look at the timing. By the evening of the next day, Dec. 17, newspapers such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were carrying stories sourced to anonymous “senior administration officials” who were saying the administration had concluded North Korea was behind the attacks — but government insiders were not yet sure when or how to officially release that information, or what to do about it. According to The Wall Street Journal, the debate had already been going on inside the administration for days. But confirmation of North Korea’s role did not start seeping out, via these anonymous tips, until after Sony had canceled the release. (Official confirmation did not come until Friday morning, three days after the threats on theaters.)

In other words, both Sony and the movie theaters were left to twist in the face of a terrorist threat, while the White House knew that North Korea was behind it, but did nothing to take the lead.  Now the president blames Sony, on the grounds that because they pulled the movie, the terrorists won. Though in the case of Sony, he did not impute the threat to terrorists. He basically implied that the problem was — to borrow a phrase — workplace violence. He said: “Imagine if, instead of it being a cyber-threat, somebody had broken into their offices and destroyed a bunch of computers and stolen disks. Is that what it takes for you to suddenly pull the plug on something?”

With that, he neatly shifted onto the private sector the job of coping with terrorist threats from North Korea, and downgraded an act of war by a nation-state to a criminal attack.

Actually, it is the federal government, not the movie industry, that is richly empowered by U.S. citizens and lavishly funded by U.S. taxpayers to protect the country against terrorist threats. It is the job of President Obama, not the head of Sony Pictures, to lead — from in front — when a state-sponsored terrorist threat is issued against Americans. And if Obama has conducted his foreign policy in such a way that North Korea is emboldened to launch this kind of assault against a company in the U.S., and issue threats invoking Sept. 11 against Americans who choose to go to a movie theater in America, then it is Obama’s job to take responsibility for his failure, and fix it.

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Hollywood comedy slams into North Korea, and yes, the result sounds like an over-the-top movie plot — about a movie, about a plot. Except it’s real, which is the problem with a lot of the threats out there that America in its virtual slumber has been failing to take seriously for some time now. Credit Hollywood, that our entertainers — whether they meant to or not — have triggered a big wakeup call.

The plot:  Two comedians decide to make a film that mocks the most bizarre dictatorship on earth — totalitarian North Korea, ruled by 31-year-old Kim Jong Un, a hereditary tyrant with a taste for Mickey Mouse and nuclear bombs. The movie, The Interview, features these two comedians as a pair of TV-tabloid journalists who are sick of doing Hollywood fluff and want to do some serious reporting. Opportunity knocks: it turns out that young tyrant Kim is a fan of their TV show, and is offering them an exclusive interview with him in Pyongyang. That turns rather more serious than they had planned, when the CIA turns up on their doorstep and tasks them to take advantage of the interview with Kim to do him in: “Take him out.” And so, two slapstick dudes with a mission, off they go to assassinate the tyrant of North Korea.

Cut to the real world, in which it turns out North Korean officialdom has no sense of humor, and is particularly touchy about its big boss (whose leadership style is such that he was warned earlier this year by United Nations human rights investigators that he could be held responsible for “crimes against humanity”). The emperor cannot afford to allow the story to spread that he has no clothes. Pyongyang’s totalitarian regime is built around the requirements of complete loyalty, adulation and obedience rendered unto the supreme leader — a system that Kim underscored last year by executing his own allegedly wayward uncle-in-law.

When the trailer for The Interview is released, in June, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry — in lingo that itself invites lampooning — declares that distribution of the film would be “the most undisguised terrorism and a war action to deprive the service personnel and people of the DPRK of their mental mainstay and bring down its social system.”  Pyongyang threatens that “if the U.S. administration connives at and patronizes the screening of the film, it will invite a strong and merciless countermeasure.” At the UN, where North Korea’s membership is itself a sorry joke, the North Korean ambassador writes a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, demanding that the U.S. government ban this Hollywood comedy, or else the U.S. “will be fully responsible for encouraging and sponsoring terrorism.”

In late November, this scene turns far more serious, with a massive hacking attack on the computer network of the company behind the movie, Sony Pictures Entertainment. The damage is enormous. Expensive new Sony movies, not yet officially released, are leaked online (though, interestingly enough, The Interview is not among them). Also leaked are Social Security numbers, salaries, fees and confidential emails of Sony personnel, contractors and stars. Some of the emails are embarrassing. Company executives come under fire for in-house correspondence deemed insulting to a cast of characters ranging from Angelina Jolie to the president of the United States.

Now Sony is under attack not only from hackers, but from critics who are poring over its abruptly aired secrets. And investigators are still trying to track down the hackers.

North Korea denies involvement in the hack attack, but gloats over Sony’s misery. This comes by way of a statement from the Policy Department of North Korea’s National Defense Commission, released by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), in which North Korean authorities say they have no clue where in America Sony Pictures is located, nor do they know why it was attacked, nor they do feel any need to know. But they do know, as they spell out, that “the hacking is so fatal that all the systems of the company have been paralyzed, causing the overall suspension of the work and supposedly a huge ensuing loss.” They go on to say that “the hacking into SONY Pictures might be a righteous deed of the supporters and sympathizers with the DPRK in response to its appeal.” And, at the end of long string of blather attacking the U.S. and South Korea, and lauding “the severe punishment by the anti-U.S. sacred war to be staged all over the world,” they conclude that “the righteous reaction will get stronger to smash the evil doings.”

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Will the United Nations ever face up to the awkward reality that it is subsidizing terrorists in Gaza? Or is that too touchy a topic because it might interfere with UN demands for more of your tax dollars?

The deputy commissioner of UNRWA — the UN’s enormous agency dedicated entirely to Palestinian refugees — was in New York this week to speak at an UNRWA pledging conference at UN headquarters. This deputy commissioner, Margot Ellis, happens to be an American citizen, educated at Cornell and Columbia, and a former longtime official of the U.S. Agency for International Development. So one might hope she would be at least dimly aware of the responsibilities of a civil servant — as opposed to, say, a hired lobbyist — to present an honest picture when shaking the can for more public money.

But when Ellis spoke to the General Assembly on Thursday, to ask for more funds for UNRWA, her account of Gaza was so neatly trimmed of highly relevant information on the real source of the trouble that it could have been written by the propaganda mills of Pyongyang. Ellis talked about this past summer’s war between Hamas and Israel in terms of “Palestinian vulnerability” and “the extreme material and human devastation of Israeli military campaigns.” She lamented that “we were certain as was the Palestine refugee community in Gaza, that United Nations schools were a safe refuge for families and children,” and she stressed — as she did at a previous UNRWA pledging conference last December — a need for more construction material, and “the lifting of the blockade.”

Here are some things she did not say. She did not make a single mention of Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that rules Gaza, and pours resources into weapons for launching attacks on Israel, while UNRWA — to which the U.S. is the largest donor — picks up a big chunk of the tab for social services.  To hear Ellis talk about Gaza, it is as if Hamas does not exist. Neither do the guns, mortars, rockets and hate-mills.

Ellis made not a single mention of the vast tunnel network, discovered by the Israelis this past summer, that Hamas had dug into Israel to facilitate its terrorist attacks. This Hamas venture included more than 30 terrorist tunnels, which by Israeli estimates cost at least $90 million to build, and required an average of 350 truckloads of construction supplies per tunnel. (If UNRWA disagrees with these estimates, perhaps it is time UNRWA — with its extensive networks, facilities and 12,000 Palestinian staffers in Gaza — provided some information on these projects.) Reportedly Hamas used Palestinian children to help dig these tunnels, an abuse of minors that Ellis also failed to allude to.

For that matter, she also made no mention of such horrors as the Hamas mass public execution in August of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel. They were paraded, hooded and bound, before a jeering crowd, and then shot to death.

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The Infinite Maze of the Iran Nuclear Talks

November 25th, 2014 - 2:13 am

“I’m not going to confirm whether or not there’s a gap or not a gap or where the gaps are. There obviously are gaps.”

Thus did Secretary of State John Kerry summarize the impasse which has just led to a second extension of the Iran nuclear talks — which have already spanned a full year, and after failing to produce a “comprehensive agreement” by the original July 24th deadline, or the extended Nov. 24 deadline, are now planned to continue through June 30, 2015. The occasion for Kerry’s remark was a press availability he held on Monday in Vienna, following a frenzied bout of meetings in which the only clear result to emerge by the Monday deadline was the announcement that the talks would be extended for another seven months.

Kerry was responding — more or less — to a reporter’s question about what general kind of progress warrants a second extension of the talks, and what kind of sanctions relief might Iran get while the bargaining continues. On the matter of the secret yet obvious gaps, he went on to say that any disclosure of the details could spell the end of the talks: “If that becomes the public debate, this is going to end very quickly. So we’re not going to discuss the details…. We’re just not going to go there.”

What we keep hearing instead, in generic terms, is how complex and technical and difficult and time-consuming these negotiations are. Echoing the remarks over many months of other U.S. senior administration officials, Kerry noted that there are teams of experts working around the clock to vet any new idea that Kerry, or the European Union’s Catherine Ashton, or Iran’s chief negotiator Javad Zarif, might come up with. To hear U.S. administration officials tell it, their efforts to deconstruct Iran’s nuclear bomb program are at least as complicated as the bomb program itself. Which on a technical level may well be true, since the apparent aim is not to shut down Iran’s nuclear program, but to try to micro-manage it into compliance with Tehran’s official fiction that it never wanted the bomb anyway, and would have no use for it. (So, if you believe that Iran is negotiating in good faith, then the talks are needless because there was never a bomb program, and never will be — but in the interest of giving reality its due, let’s not go there).

Actually, it all gets even more complicated. Iran is refusing to provide information to the International Atomic Energy Agency on whether it has actually worked on building a bomb. But Kerry praised Iran’s Zarif —  Tehran’s envoy and chief negotiator– not only for having “worked hard” but for having “approached these negotiations in good faith.” Really? Zarif is Tehran’s mouthpiece and servant at the bargaining table. Either he is faithless toward the U.S. and its cohorts, or he is clueless about the regime he represents. Neither alternative augurs well for the nuclear talks. Nor is it auspicious that just after the talks failed to meet the Nov. 24th deadline for a deal, Kerry chose to praise Iran’s negotiator. U.S. officials keep talking as if Iran’s regime would like to give up what sure looks like a nuclear weapons program, but Tehran keeps running into enormous obstacles.

Note: The Tehran regime IS the obstacle.

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North Korea’s Hostage Payola

November 9th, 2014 - 1:56 am

America has just welcomed home two of its own, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, both of whom had been thrown in the slammer while visiting North Korea, and sentenced there to years of hard labor for acts that Pyongyang’s regime deemed “hostile.” We can celebrate their safe return.

But it would be folly to celebrate the manner in which it was accomplished. To bring them home, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper flew to North Korea, carrying what was reportedly a message from President Obama to North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un. State Department officials have been telling the press that Clapper’s mission involved no quid pro quo. A news story in the Wall Street Journal carries the  subhead: “U.S. Didn’t Give Anything to Secure Release.”

That’s absurd. The visit to North Korea by America’s intelligence chief was, in itself, a form of tribute, in which the U.S. superpower stooped to beg a favor from Pyongyang. It was a ransom. A payola for North Korea’s  hostage politics.

North Korea is an aggressive totalitarian state, which the U.S. — quite rightly — has never dignified with formal diplomatic ties and recognition. When high-ranking U.S. officials — or even former officials — go to Pyongyang to ask for something, they are supplicants. That is a concession to North Korea, all by itself, and in that spirit Pyongyang has long sought ways to procure visits by high-ranking American officials — or even former officials. That does not mean that North Korea’s regime harbors a latent affection for Americans. It means that Pyongyang benefits when high-ranking Americans are cast in the position of paying tribute.

Thus did North Korea’s previous tyrant, Kim Jong Il, back in 2000, demand a visit from President Bill Clinton as the price of a potential missile deal (Clinton did not go, Madeleine Albright and Wendy Sherman went instead). Thus in 2009 did Kim again demand a visit from Bill Clinton (that time, Clinton went) as the preferred emissary to come to Pyongyang to pick up two American employees of former Vice President Al Gore’s Current TV station, Euna Lee and Laura Ling — who had been so foolish as wander across the border from China into North Korea, where they were arrested and sentenced to 12 years at hard labor. Clinton’s visit was the visible price of their “pardon” by Kim.

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News is piling up right now about crunch time for the Iran nuclear talks; ISIS, Ebola, Russian warplanes buzzing NATO, and upheaval in Burkina Faso (where this week protesters set fire to the Ouagadougou parliament, the longtime president tweeted his resignation and fled the the country, the military stepped in, and fallout of the upheaval may entail problems for U.S. anti-terror operations in West Africa). What next?

Call me impulsive, but I had a twitch today that amid these crises, it’s about time for North Korea to throw its hat into the ring — with its next nuclear test.

No, I don’t have any inside information. Kim Jong Un does not have me on speed dial. But I have been wading through stacks of material on North Korea’s assorted bouts of nuclear talks and nuclear tests, missile programs, human rights violations, and the current North Korean “charm offensive” — in which North Korean diplomats have been lauding North Korea as a cornucopia of communal joys, while Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency has been promising that North Korea will “Mercilessly Shatter U.S. and Its Followers ‘Human Rights’ Campaign.”

And I got to wondering what had happened with that North Korean threat issued in March, when Pyongyang released a statement that it would not rule out “a new form of nuclear test.” Shortly after that, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations held a press conference in New York, at which he confirmed that there was another test in the offing. Asked what the “new form” might be, he said “Wait and see,”

Since then, as far as North Korean nuclear testing, it’s been all wait, and no see. Satellite photos of North Korea’s Punggye-ri test site this spring did show what appeared to be preparations for a fourth nuclear test (the previous three having been carried out in 2006, 2009 and 2013). Analysts say North Korea appears ready to carry out its next illicit nuclear detonation. There have also been signs that North Korea is expanding its uranium enrichment facilities. And last week the commander of U.S. Forces in Korea, General Curtis Scaparrotti, said at a press conference that he believes North Korea has the capability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead and the technology to deliver it on a missile.

All of which is dire. But most of the U.S. fuss over North Korea in recent times has centered on such dramas as Kim’s fit of avunculicide in late 2013, the imprisonment of American tourists, the mysterious disappearance and reappearance this fall of the limping young tyrant Kim, and the damning United Nations report accusing North Korea’s leadership of crimes against humanity, to which North Korea has been responding with the diplomatic and propaganda blitz now dubbed a charm offensive.

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Every aggressive, internationally sanctioned despotism with nuclear ambitions needs a few tricks in its diplomatic tool kit, and one of these — when the going gets rough — is the so-called “diplomatic charm offensive.”

This season, as anointed last week by the New York Times, the big charmer is North Korea. Not that there’s anything in this “charm offensive” that’s actually charming. But North Korea — with its record of rogue missile and nuclear tests, abductions, counterfeiting, threats to destroy its enemies with “seas of fire,” generally taciturn diplomats and whatnot — has set the bar so low that anything remotely resembling normal diplomatic activity (in form, if not function) tends to be hailed abroad as a promising sign. So, when North Korea sent a high-level delegation to South Korea earlier this month, freed one of the three Americans it has most recently been holding in prison, and sent forth some diplomats from its United Nations mission in New York to field questions from policy makers and the press, this outreach inspired such headlines as the Times’s “The Latest North Korean Mystery: A Diplomatic Charm Offensive.

What’s North Korea up to? The obvious guess is that Pyongyang is trying to deflect criticism of its atrocious human rights record, as laid out in a detailed and damning report released this past March by a special UN Commission of Inquiry, led by Australian jurist Michael Kirby. This commission accused North Korea’s government, at the highest levels, of crimes against humanity, and warned North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un that he could be held responsible and referred to the international justice system. There is now a push at the UN by the European Union and Japan to urge the Security Council to refer Kim himself to the International Criminal Court. Kim evidently does not like this idea, and his diplomatic envoys have been deployed in a campaign to stop any such referral. If you’d like to sample some of this North Korean “charm,” here’s a link to a debate this past week at a UN side event in New York, hosted by the Jacob Blaustein Institute and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea — in which Kirby goes toe-to-toe with a North Korean diplomat over the issue of the Kim regime’s crimes against humanity.

Clearly this dust-up over human rights is of particular concern to Pyongyang. But my guess is that there’s even more going on here — and it has to do with Iran. Recall that just last year, Iran launched its own charm offensive. At the 2013 annual opening of the UN General Assembly, the newly inaugurated President Hasan Rouhani replaced the boorish former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At Rouhani’s side was the smooth-talking, U.S.-schooled veteran diplomat and new foreign minister, Javad Zarif. It was all considered so charming that two months later, in Nov., 2013, the Obama administration swooned its way into an interim agreement for the U.S. plus five other world powers to engage in nuclear talks with Iran, aiming for a grand comprehensive agreement to be hammered out within six months. Predictably enough (and some of us did predict this) the talks have dragged on for almost a year now (with the original July deadline extended to Nov. 24) and Iran’s regime has done quite well for itself out of the process — refusing to give up its nuclear infrastructure, while dangling before heavily invested U.S. and European diplomats the bait of a deal. Some sanctions on Iran have been suspended, some are now more loosely enforced, and Tehran — world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism — has been courted by western businesses, while its foreign minister, Zarif, has been wooed by western negotiators.

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From ISIS to Ebola, there’s so much misery in the news right now that I hesitate to belabor the downside of Venezuela winning one of the 10 rotating seats on the 15-member United Nations Security Council — as happened on Thursday, thanks to a General Assembly vote of 181 in favor, with 10 abstaining. Surely it’s obvious what’s horrifying about this picture. Venezuela is the oil-rich home to a thug regime that brutalizes its democratic dissidents and pals around with Cuba, Russia and Iran. Venezuela’s ruler, President Nicolas Maduro, continues to live down to the despotic and virulently anti-American legacy of his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. That’s not the kind of government needed on the UN’s leading body, the high council entrusted with authorizing the use of force, promoting peace, imposing sanctions, approving applications for UN membership and recommending the next secretary-general.

Or, as explained in a rhapsody of understatement by the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, “Unfortunately, Venezuela’s conduct at the UN has run counter to the spirit of the UN charter and its violations of rights at home are at odds with the Charter’s letter.”

But let us try to look on the bright side, or at least dredge deep enough to find in this muck a few trace elements of good news. Here are three potential benefits to Venezuela winning  a two-year term, from 2015-2016, on the Security Council:

1) Convenient poster child. Not since the General Assembly elected Qaddafi’s Libya to the UN Security Council, for the years 2009-2010, has this particular UN process produced such a colorful case of utter farce.  For the next two years, Venezuela can provide a convenient shorthand for what’s wrong with both the Security Council and the vaunted “international community” — the 193-member General Assembly, in which 181 nations voted to install Venezuela on the Security Council, while another 10 wildly independent thinkers were so bold as to abstain. Of course, despotic governments on the Security Council are nothing new. Russia and China hold two of the permanent five veto-wielding seats, along with the U.S., Britain and France. But somehow that longtime inner circle of moral equivalency has become a standard piece of the landscape. It is left to the non-permanent members to endow the council with its flashier credentials of the hour — and for summing up the scene, Venezuela is an excellent choice.

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The New York Sun proposes awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Hong Kong, where demonstrators have been defying Beijing in order to demand their promised democratic rights. Great idea — but it is Hong Kong that would dignify the prize, not the other way around. Hong Kong’s people have acted with courage and grace in the face of one of the world’s most powerful dictatorships.

Their grievances are quite real. These demonstrations cap 30 years of betrayal, first by Britain and then by China. As I recount in an article for the Weekly Standard, in a post-colonial era that saw other British colonies gain independence, Hong Kong was turned over in 1997 to China. The people of Hong Kong never had a say. This was supposed to be mitigated by the terms of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, in which China — under Deng Xiaoping’s promise of “One Country, Two Systems” — agreed that Hong Kong would enjoy a “high degree of autonomy” and democratic self-rule in all matters except foreign policy and defense. But genuine democracy did not materialize. Instead, after years of evasion and delay, China this summer produced the plan: in 2017, Hong Kong’s people would be allowed to vote for their chief executive — with the cynical proviso that Beijing would, de facto, choose the candidates.

Hong Kong’s people rejected this in the only way left to them. They took to the streets. They did this in the long shadow of China’s bloody suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising. They refused to kowtow to the dictates of China’s Communist Party (which keeps China’s own Nobel Peace laureate, Liu Xiabo, imprisoned). They protested peacefully. They did their best to keep order, even when pro-Beijing goons descended on some of them last Friday. They did not riot. They did not loot. They did not threaten violence. They cleaned up after themselves, and asked again and again for their rights.

What accounts for this movement? Isn’t Hong Kong supposed to be a center of crass commercialism, its people dedicated to making money, as the apolitical wards of first Britain and now China?

Obviously, there’s more to it.

The world has had little interest in recent times in the argument that capitalism helps foster democracy. Free market ideas are broadly out of fashion. But I would suggest that free markets have a great deal to do with the admirable culture on display in Hong Kong.

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